The Homeland Security Department appointed a public advocate in February 2012 to deal with questions and complaints about changes in the government’s deportation policies.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton named Andrew Lorenzen-Strait, an attorney and senior ICE adviser, to the new position. Morton said the government needed to do a better job explaining some of the policy reforms and changes it made during 2011.
"We have undertaken a significant number of reforms from a policy perspective,” Morton said, “and we want to make sure they are evenly understood in the public and advocacy communities."
In August, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced that the government intended to review about 300,000 deportation cases as part of the reforms. The Obama administration said it wanted to concentrate its enforcement efforts on removing undocumented immigrants with criminal records and back off deporting immigrants whose only offenses were violations of immigration laws.
DHS officials recommended closing thousands of deportation cases across the country after reviews in Denver, Baltimore and elsewhere found they involved non-criminal undocumented immigrants.
"As our first Public Advocate, Andrew Lorenzen-Strait will work to expand and enhance our dialogue with the stakeholder community," Morton said in a statement. "We want the public to know that they have a representative at this agency whose sole duty is to ensure their voice is heard and their interests are recognized, and I'm confident Andrew will serve the community well in this capacity."
Lorenzen-Strait said he would reach out to immigrants and their legal advocates to make sure all parties understand the government’s policies.
“While this new role will be challenging, I believe it will reap significant rewards for ICE as well as for stakeholders,” he said. “As we work to enact significant policy changes to focus the agency’s immigration enforcement resources on sensible priorities, implement policies and processes that prioritize the health and safety of detainees in our custody while increasing federal oversight, and improve the conditions of confinement within the detention system, I will strive to expand and enhance our dialogue with the stakeholder community.”
Lorenzen-Strait said he will have four main duties:
- Assist individuals and community stakeholders in addressing complaints and concerns in accordance with agency policies and operations, particularly concerns related to ICE enforcement actions that affect U.S. citizens
- Inform stakeholders on Enforcement Removal Operations policies, programs and initiatives, and enhance understanding of ERO’s mission and core values.
- Engage stakeholders and build partnerships to facilitate communication, foster collaboration and solicit input on immigration enforcement initiatives and operations; and
- Advise ICE leadership on stakeholder findings, concerns, recommendations and priorities as they relate to improving immigration enforcement efforts and activities.
Response to Lorenzen-Strait’s appointment and the creation of his position was mixed. Democrats and immigrant groups praised the appointment as a step in the right direction. Congressional Republicans dismissed it as the administration playing election-year politics and advancing “backdoor amnesty" for undocumented immigrants.
“It’s almost premature to say whether this will lead to tangible results,” said Brittney Nystrom, policy director for the National Immigration Forum. “It’s just another announcement, but it’s a welcome announcement.”
Immigrant advocates have been critical of the administration in general and DHS Secretary Napolitano in particular for the Secure Communities deportation program. Complaints are that it hasn’t focused enough on truly criminal immigrants and that it has shifted too much responsibility to local law enforcement agencies.
Police and local governments complained they were dragged into civil immigration cases that federal authorities should have handled. Some communities have refused to cooperate fully with the federal initiative. Deportations soared in 2011.
Lorenzen-Strait has worked for ICE since 2008. Before that, he worked as an attorney and was recognized as the Maryland Attorney of the Year for Pro Bono Service working with Community Legal Services of Prince George’s County.