A July 2008 Greeley Tribune article predicted that "an Immigration and Customs Enforcement office, a flashpoint of controversy when it was proposed three years ago, will open this fall in Greeley."
Wrong. It took nearly two more years before the Greeley branch officially opened yesterday. Such public events are rare for ICE, but Dallas-based spokesman Carl Rusnok, who was in Colorado for the occasion, says, "We wanted to be as transparent as possible."
That's a matter of debate. In February, the Tribune reported that the office was already up and running. At the time, Rusnok said a more formal announcement would be made once everything was fully operational. Today, however, he reveals that the office reached that stage about a month ago.
As for why it's taken at least five years for the office to materialize, Rusnok says, "There were a lot of things going on way above my pay grade, so I'm not going to go there. But I can tell you it made sense from the standpoint of being where more of the action is. We closed our office in Brush, and I understand the general area around there has about 50,000 people. In Greeley, there are around 300,000 people."
Of course, Greeley is also the home to meat-packing plants that have been the target of high-profile immigration raids; to read about one that took place in the summer of 2007, click here. But Rusnok doesn't want to give the impression that the presence of ICE in town will prompt the sort of profiling that's threatened by a controversial Arizona immigration bill.
"ICE has limited resources, and like anybody with limited resources, including individuals, companies and governments, we've got to prioritize those resources," he says. "In this case, that means targeting those people who pose the greatest threat to public safety. And when you're talking about the immigration side of ICE, you're talking about specifically targeting and prioritizing criminal aliens -- aliens convicted of crimes."
Critics of current U.S. immigration policy frequently note that anyone living and working in this country without proper documentation is breaking the law as well. To that, Rusnok says, "There are different levels of crime and different levels of criminals. So we prioritize our efforts not only to target those criminals, but the higher level of those criminals. With our resources, we're going to use those resources to go after the worst of the criminals. But some of our efforts are also spent on the lesser criminals."
In other words, Rusnok isn't ruling out more raids -- but he stresses that ICE isn't a one-trick agency.
"Our name is our job," he maintains. "We do immigration enforcement and investigation as well as customs investigations -- and customs can include intellectual property rights, money laundering, child exploitation, cyber-crimes, financial crimes, identity fraud, a lot of things.
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"We routinely work with local, state, federal and international law enforcement, and our common goal is to combat crime. That's the ultimate goal of any law-enforcement agency. For example, we've got a program called Operation Predator, which has been around since July of 2003. We've arrested more than 12,000 individuals as part of that program, which targets individuals who sexually exploit children. And when those people are non-U.S. citizens, after they're convicted and sentenced and they serve their sentence, we can deport them. So we're in quite a unique situation. We're able to remove individuals from the streets that present a danger to the public, and if they're non-U.S. citizens, we can remove them from the country."
Beyond noting that Eric Dreher will serve as the resident agent in charge at the Greeley office, Rusnok doesn't provide much more information, for security reasons. But he does confirm that the branch will be able to launch its own operations, as well as participating in ones initiated higher up the bureaucratic chain.
The transparency of which will likely be in the eye of the beholder.