Homeland border enforcement bureau looks to cross-train agents

Despite progress in its internal reorganization, the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) still must reconcile differences in training between its two criminal investigation corps.

ICE inherited 2,050 agents from the Immigration and Naturalization Service and 3,500 investigators from the Customs Service. Customs and INS agents enforced laws from different sections of the U.S. Code. As the agency works to create one investigative force, it is crafting a training plan so these agents can work the same cases and enforce the same laws.

"We are working on a plan to implement the cross-training," ICE spokesman Garrison Courtney said Thursday. As Customs and INS agents move into the same office space at 25 field offices around the country-a process that already is under way-they are being briefed on each other's cases, he added.

But one question facing ICE planners is whether some INS agents who worked in the former agency need additional criminal investigator training. Before the INS was split apart and moved into the Department of Homeland Security, immigration agents generally received different training than Customs agents. In some cases, immigration agents did not go through the standard federal criminal investigator program, taught at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Ga., but instead received INS-specific training.

The INS course included intensive Spanish training, but did not feature some elements of the standard criminal investigator program, which is used for investigators at 52 federal agencies. For example, the INS course did not require trainees to investigate a criminal case from the beginning through court proceedings, a feature of the standard program, according to Brad Smith, deputy assistant director in the Office of Training Management at the federal training center.

"They're going to have to look at each [INS agent] and determine the training they have had," said Smith. "Some of them have been through the criminal investigation program and others haven't. They'll have to determine whether those people will be criminal investigators, or put them in another job series, or put them through additional training."

Some former Customs agents believe their INS counterparts lack the same level of training. "The problem is the immigration guys aren't real agents," said one Customs agent. "They don't have the same criminal investigation experience."

Some INS agents, in turn, believe they have more practical experience in high-crime areas than their Customs colleagues, and contend they don't need additional training. "[Customs agents] make as many arrests in their career as we make in a pay period," said one former INS agent.

Courtney, the ICE spokesman, said the agency has not decided whether any agents will need additional training in criminal investigations.

ICE must also decide whether INS and Customs investigators will receive the same level of pay. Customs agents are typically paid at the GS-13 level, while INS investigators are classified at the GS-12 level, according to the Homeland Security Department's March report on the pay and benefit systems of Homeland Security employees.

New ICE investigators now receive common training at the federal training center in Glynco. Since June, about 100 ICE agents have graduated from the same investigation course, according to Smith. "Everyone in ICE that has been hired since June has been going through the same training," he said.

The ICE reorganization hit a milestone on June 9, when the agency structure designed by ICE Acting Assistant Secretary Michael Garcia took effect. ICE now has five divisions: investigations; intelligence; detention and removal; air and marine interdiction; and federal protective services. The agency plans to tap some federal protective service employees to assist in deportation proceedings, Garcia said in a July 23 speech at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based think tank.

ICE also has created a new unit within its investigations branch to focus on foreigners who do not comply with new federal registration programs, including the agency's student registration system, known as the Student Exchange Visitor and Information System. "This [unit] develops cases on those who have failed to comply with student registration or the entry-exit system, looking for information that suggests the violators may pose potential national security risks," Garcia said in his Heritage Foundation speech.

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