The director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said Wednesday that she has no problem telling her agents to follow President Barack Obama's orders when it comes to immigration, even when those orders violate the law as passed by Congress.
ICE Director Sarah Saldana attended a hearing held by a subcommittee of the House Budget Committee. In that hearing, Rep. David Young (R-Iowa) said he was worried about reports that some ICE officials aren't sure whether to enforce the law as it's written, or enforce the White House directive to relax deportation efforts against what they call low-priority illegal immigrants.
"If I had policies or directives that were contrary to the law, I would understand if they didn't want to follow them. I would expect them to follow the law first," Young said.
To that, Saldana replied, "And that's where you and I probably have a fundamental disagreement." (The exchange begins at the 1:25:30 mark in the video above.)
In a radio interview with Simon Conway in Iowa later that day, Young admitted he was floored by Saldana's statement, and said he couldn't believe her answer.
"We have a senior administration official, the director of ICE, saying that guidelines, directives, trump the law," he said. "This is pretty serious."
The back-and-forth began when Young asked Saldana to respond to Obama's comment in February, when he said ICE officials needed to follow the White House's orders to relax enforcement against immigrants it has deemed to be a low priority for deportation. "If somebody's working for ICE, and there's a policy and they don't follow the policy, there are going to be consequences to it," Obama said then.
Those "consequences" have been widely interpreted to mean ICE officials could be fired for not following Obama's new instructions on immigration.
Young asked Saldana if Obama's comments concerned her in any way, given the implication that Obama was asking ICE to enforce his own directive, and not U.S. law.
"I'm trying to be honest with you, sir," Saldana replied. "No."
She then equated Obama's directive to any normal directive that a company or congressman might send out to their staffs. "I imagine you have staff that you expect to comply with your directives and your policies," she said. "I imagine the typical employer in the United States has employees who they expect to follow their directives, their policies."
After telling Young that they have a "fundamental disagreement" over whether directives or the law are controlling, Young then asked if she sees Obama's comments as a threat to ICE officials.
"A threat?" she laughed. "I am here of my own volition and will. I'm just trying to help the United States of America and our country on issues that are so divisive."