Tuesday, November 6, 2007
With limited administrative and immigration experience, Julie Myers was a controversial choice (here) to be Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ICE, of course, is regularly in the news and its immigration enforcement efforts often provoke controversy. Myers herself sparked controversy by suggesting at an academic conference at the University of Chicago law school that ICE should investigate whether unions are unlawfully aiding and abetting undocumented workers.
One persistent criticism of immigration enforcement is that racial profiling is endemic and that racial insensitivity is commonplace among immigration officers. A troubling story suggests that ICE's top echelon is not particularly sensitive on matters of race.
CNN reports that the Department of Homeland Security will investigate a Halloween costume party hosted by Julie Myers and attended by a man dressed in a striped prison outfit, dreadlocks and darkened skin make-up, "a costume some say is offensive, the department's secretary said." Myers, host of the fundraising party, was on a three-judge panel that originally praised the prisoner costume for "originality." Myers later apologized for "a few of the costumes," calling them "inappropriate and offensive." She said she and other senior managers "deeply regret that this happened." A department photographer photographed Myers with the man, but the images were deleted after the costume were deemed offensive, ICE spokeswoman Kelly Nantel said.
Between 50 and 75 people attended the party, which was a fundraiser for the Combined Federal Campaign, a federal government collection of charities.
This unfortunate Halloween party is not the worst racial faus paux of a high level immigration official. Harold Ezell, Western Regional Commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service in the 1980s, was infamous for comments made about "illegal aliens" -- that they should be "caught, skinned and fried." Senator Dennis DeConcini reportedly complained that Ezell used the term "`wets,'" apparently a shortened version of the pejorative term "wetbacks," to refer to undocumented immigrants seeking to cross the Rio Grande. In the campaign for Proposition 187 in California in 1994, Ezell mentioned that support for Proposition 187 was great because "`[t]he people are tired of watching their state run wild and become a third world country.'"
In comparsion to Ezell's many statements, Myers' gaffe is relatively tame. But one has to wonder what was she thinking and how she could have made such a dumb mistake.
UPDATE CNN reports that DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff has directed Myers to take an "administrative leave" while the department conducts an inquiry. Myers was initially a recess appointment and later re-nominated by President Bush; her nomination has been placed on hold, according to CNN.
Think Progress has an interesting story about two Senators' refusal to criticize Myers. The comments are revealing about th enational divide on issues of race.