An angry Republican representative is investigating whether the Obama Administration hoodwinked Congress by merely renaming the role of "Public Advocate" for illegal immigrants rather than eliminating the position after it was defunded.
Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., wants to know if U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) circumvented the law by changing the title of the agency official who was named as the agency's "public advocate" while keeping him on the job.
In February 2012, Andrew Lorenzen-Strait was named to be Immigration and Customs Enforcement's first Public Advocate, but he now serves as Deputy Assistant Director of Custody Programs and Community Outreach after Congress defunded the position in March.
Black is investigating whether Lorenzen-Strait is actually still serving as public advocate even though it is no longer his official role. According to her office and Judicial Watch, a non-profit government watchdog group which originally uncovered the advocacy position under ICE, the description of his role remains the same despite the name change.
Black sent a letter to ICE Acting Director John Sandweg on Tuesday and is asking the agency to answer questions as to why the position, which has been defunded, appears to be continuing under a different name.
"I write with serious concern that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has ignored current law that prohibits your agency from funding the position of Public Advocate," said Black. "Additionally, it appears that Mr. Lorenzen-Strait was retained and assigned a new title with no substantive changes to his job function. If true, this represents a serious violation of the public trust. ICE has a moral and legal responsibility to comply with the law and the will of Congress.The sudden creation of a new position within your agency for Mr. Lorenzen-Strait casts further doubt on the idea that ICE has acted in good faith to comply with the law."
ICE spokeswoman Barbara Gonzalez told The Blaze that Lorenzen-Strait, a career civil servant "has helped lead the agency’s public engagement and detention reform portfolio" since being hired by ICE in 2008, "during the previous Administration."
Gonzalez said community outreach remains a necessary function at ICE in order to explain the agency’s mission and to be responsive to the needs of the public. "ICE’s detention reform efforts, initiated in 2009, prioritize the health and safety of detainees in ICE custody as well as the security of ICE employees and staff, while increasing federal oversight and conditions of confinement within the system," she said.
However, Tom Flanagin, spokesman for Black's office told TheBlaze "it took us two weeks to get ICE to tell us when they changed the name on the position."
He said ICE officials eventually told them the position title was officially changed on April 1.
"Not sure if it was an April fools joke or what," he said. "What we want to know as well is whether the five days in between the time they changed the name, were they still paying this position."
The "public advocate" position was created in February 2012, but the role is contrary to the law enforcement policies dictated by ICE, said an DHS employee, who is familiar with the position. The official spoke on condition that they not be named because they were not authorized to speak on the matter.
"This is the biggest joke," the DHS official said. "We know that many times public advocate means the illegals are getting all the information they need to circumvent our laws and stay in the country. So basically we have a position in the department that works against the ICE officers who are trying to do their jobs."
In the letter Black is asking ICE to answer several direct questions that need to be answered by Oct. 7,"to better understand how ICE is working to follow the law and the will of the American people."
"What was the employment status of Andrew Lorenzen-Strait between March 26, 2013 and April 1, 2013," she asks. "What substantive differences, if any, exist between Mr. Lorenzen-Strait’s current position and his previous one as Public Advocate?"