Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., is one of the lawmakers looking into the increase in attacks.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., is one of the lawmakers looking into the increase in attacks. Susan Walsh/AP

Citing Uptick in Attacks, Senators Request Better Protection for ICE Officers

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle echo Trump administration concerns.

A bipartisan pair of senators is calling for action to protect federal immigration officers, joining Trump administration officials in expressing concern over a wave of attacks on the law enforcement personnel.

Assaults on Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers have spiked this year, Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., and ranking member Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., noted in a letter to the Homeland Security Department inspector general last week. The senators asked the inspector general to investigate why the uptick has occurred and what steps DHS and ICE can take to better protect their employees.

“Any time you have an increase in assaults against our law enforcement officials, you need to find out why and take steps to ensure they’re being protected,” McCaskill said. “Protecting law enforcement isn’t a partisan issue, which is why I’m happy to be taking action along with my Republican colleague.”

According to ICE, there have been 19 recorded assaults on ICE personnel in 2017 through May 22, compared to 24 incidents in all of 2016. Johnson and McCaskill also requested data since 2010, what DHS and ICE have done already to protect employees, and whether assailants have been prosecuted.

Thomas Homan, ICE’s acting director, at a congressional hearing last week blamed the media and immigrant groups for putting officers at risk by promoting false or misleading reports about the nature of their jobs. His employees, Homan said, have been “unfairly vilified for simply trying to do their jobs.”

“People have the right to protest, but ICE officers also have rights,” Homan told a House Appropriations Committee panel. “They have a right to enforce the law safely and return to their families at the end of the day.”

Homan promoted the controversial practice of making immigration arrests at courthouses, noting it helped with safety for his officers because they could be certain the detainees did not have any weapons on them. He decried as untrue any reports that ICE employees were making arrests at schools or hospitals. ICE officers, he said, should be celebrated for keeping communities safe rather than depicted as inhumane or callous.

“In the country I grew up in, you should be worried if you’re violating the law,” Homan said, adding ICE officers should not be blamed or threatened for laws they did not write. Too often, he said, the respect afforded to other law enforcement officers is not extended ICE employees. ICE officers, he explained, do their jobs because they love their country and want to keep its communities safe.  

“Unlike most other agencies,” Homan said, “we do this despite a constant deluge of biased attacks against ICE personnel by those who disagree with the laws we enforce.”