Top Immigration Official Hints Feds May Not Deport Immigrants Picked Up By Arizona

It may turn out to be little more than a throw-away line, but this comment from the head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement is certain to raise eyebrows:

Echoing comments by President Barack Obama and others in the administration, Morton said that Arizona’s new law targeting illegal immigration is not “good government.” The law makes it a crime to be in the state illegally and requires police to check suspects for immigration paperwork.

Morton said his agency will not necessarily process illegal immigrants referred to them by Arizona officials. The best way to reduce illegal immigration is through a comprehensive federal approach, not a patchwork of state laws, he said.

“I don’t think the Arizona law, or laws like it, are the solution,” Morton said.

I’ve got to believe that this is a mistake, because if it’s a hint at what ICE’s actual policy might be once the Arizona law goes into effect in July it reveals a level of political stupidity that would really be quite extraordinary.

While I’m personally not a fan of Arizona’s approach, or of the idea of getting states into the business of immigration enforcement, there’s no denying that the law itself has hit a chord with the public. The vast majority of Arizonans, and a solid majority of Americans nationwide, support the bill and the idea of tougher immigration enforcement. The main reason for this is the perception that the Federal Government has, for a long period of time, simply failed to enforce existing law.

Under the law, ICE does have broad authority in deciding what to do with illegal immigrants that end up in it’s custody and can, in fact, decide not deport an immigrant who is here illegally. A decision to use that discretion to reject every person that Arizona turns over, however, seems to play into the general complain that the Federal Government has failed to adequately enforce the law and strikes me as potentially being political suicide for Democrats in the fall.

FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, Campaign 2010, US Politics, , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. yetanotherjohn says:

    A path to 100+ seats?

  2. steve says:

    From your quoted article.

    “Morton said the government’s stepped-up enforcement would result in a “sharp increase” in deportations this year. Last year’s 400,000 overall deportations were a record, but this year there has already been a 40 percent jump in deportations of criminals, he said.”

    If I were living in Arizona and angry at someone who was Hispanic, I can see how it would be tempting to anonymously report them. Kind of like the bounties in Afghanistan. So, I am glad to see that someone who is actually deporting more people, not just talking tough, is voicing some caution.


  3. just me says:

    I think there is much in our current immigration law that needs to be changed, but actually saying you are going to not even try to deport illegal immigrants is about the dumbest position to take.

    Even people who would like to see a more liberal immigration policy aren’t in favor of open borders, which a “we aren’t going to deport anyone Arizona sends us” pretty much would turn out to be.

  4. superdestroyer says:


    Quoting a poor open borders, unlimited immigraiton, no enforcement, web site is no way to build up credibility. Please find cites with a .gov before talking about how successful deportation (also know as catch and release) is working.

    Also, if the police is Arizona are not competent enough to figure out who is an illegal immigrants, do you really think that the manager of a McDonalds is going to be able to do it. Get real, the Hispanic activist willnot be satisfied until most of Mexco moves to the U.S. and gets massive amounts of government entitlements paid for by middle class whites.

    Immigrants should have to be revenue positive (more taxes paid than money spent on them) for at least the first twenty years they are in the U.S. Having a high entitlement government while maintaining open borders and unlimited immigration is economic and social suicide.

  5. The law has probably also struck a chord with the American public due to the critical state of the economy. If you don’t have a job and you see a Mexican worker who does have one, it’s easy to conclude that the employer took him in because of all the paperwork and salary they’d be able to avoid with a natural-born worker. I told a Mexican friend of mine who was really worried about this law that point of view, and even she conceded that it makes alot of sense, no matter how wrong-headed it might be.

  6. TangoMan says:


    Would you please consider deactivating the automatic bolding of text within blockquotes? a commenter is no longer able to highlight text within that blockquote.

  7. JKB says:

    The Liberals think this immigration issue will work for them but they are leaving themselves open to charges of soft on crime and undermining the rule of law. They publicly claim they won’t process suspected illegals reported by Arizona police. Great, no problem, until one of the refused illegals rapes somebody or just kills someone in a DUI. Then it is all on Obama and the Dems. And of course, we have the DOJ sandbagging the Black Panther prosecution and refusing to investigate ACORN.

    For the curious, go ask a local cop, except for sanctuary locales, they all can inquire about immigration status if they have reasonable suspicion to suspect the person is unauthorized to be in the US. The AZ law doesn’t really do anything but preempt any local attempts to become sanctuary cities in AZ.

  8. Herb says:

    I’m curious to know more about what Morton said.

    This is not really a quote:

    Echoing comments by President Barack Obama and others in the administration, Morton said that Arizona’s new law targeting illegal immigration is not “good government.”

    That’s a summary with a key word from the quote thrown in.

    Also a summary rather than a quote:

    Morton said his agency will not necessarily process illegal immigrants referred to them by Arizona officials.

    It would be useful to know what exactly Morton said and the context he said it in, especially if we’re going to go around saying “John Morton said ICE won’t process any illegal immigrants from Arizona.”

    Did he really say that? “Not necessarily.”

  9. Juneau: says:

    Does the phrase “Don’t bite off your nose to spite your face” come to mind with anyone besides me?