-President Obama's nominee to head the nation's immigration enforcement office told U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer (DNY) on Tuesday that Mexican drug cartels have branched out into the humantrafficking business, but said his agency can't effectively police this professionalized smuggling of illegal immigrants across the southern border because it lacks broad arrest powers.
The Office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is the nation's lead agency stationed along the border, but its arrest powers are limited to immigration crimes. John Morton, the incoming head of the agency, told Schumer in a meeting today that this limited authority hampers the government's ability to catch cartel members who have diversified their crimes to include the smuggling of guns, money and drugs, as well as illegal immigrants. Morton said that in order to take on the cartels in a more coordinated way and crack down on all these illegal trades, ICE needs drugarrest powers, or socalled "Title 21" authority, as almost all state and local law enforcement officials have.
Schumer-the Chairman of the Senate Immigration Subcommittee-told Morton he would work with him and the Justice Department on a solution that would give the agency the powers it needs to better do its job. Schumer also said he would consider holding a hearing to look deeper into the issue.
"It makes no sense for the top agency stationed along the border to lack the power to arrest criminals there," Schumer said. "The tentacles of the Mexican cartels have reached beyond guns and drugs and into human smuggling, and we have at least three separate agencies, all with different missions, trying to handle enforcement. The cartels have integrated their criminal activities and the federal agencies now need to integrate their response."
Morton's nomination is subject to a confirmation vote by both the Senate Homeland Security Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee.