TAMPA — Marc Jeffrey Moore recently took over as the federal government's new point man in its efforts to remove undocumented immigrants from Florida.
Moore, a former border patrol agent in El Paso, is the new Miami Field Office director for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, in charge of its enforcement and removal operations. He comes to Florida from Washington, D.C., where he managed all of ICE's 24 field offices.
The St. Petersburg Times sat down with Moore, 49, last week to talk about the deportation of illegal immigrants, ICE's priorities and what he hopes to accomplish in his new post.
Can you tell us about your office's priorities when it comes to deporting illegal (immigrants)?
We're going to go after dangerous criminal offenders because these are the most dangerous folks on the street. These are the folks who are the biggest risk to the community. You want to work on the most dangerous cases and then go backward.
When an illegal immigrant is booked into jail, what happens next?
If Secure Communities (a new ICE program that helps jail officials identify illegal immigrants) identifies them, and ICE launches a detainer because we believe they're an individual who is amenable for removal, then when they're finished with their criminal proceedings, we would exercise a decision to arrest and detain — or arrest and perhaps have a supervised release. But in both events, they would be in the immigration courts system.
Is there ever a case in which ICE would choose not to place a detainer on a known illegal immigrant?
ICE is provided some broad authority to exercise discretion, so I don't think it's either fair or accurate to say in 100 percent of those cases we're going to say, "Yes, that's a case that should go into the immigration court proceedings" because of a number of factors — age, medical, mental health issues — that would suggest that removal proceedings don't seem reasonable. There's discretion to apply the law and apply it correctly.
Why allow illegal (immigrants) to stay?
I think we're funded this year to do about 400,000 removals. There are far more individuals that we could apply our efforts to than 400,000, so at the end of the day, how do we be smart and how do we be effective with our ability to exercise 400,000 removals? Clearly, that means we need to be looking at where we can make the biggest impact in national security, which is community safety — and that's looking at criminal offenders.
(Editor's note: So far this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, ICE has removed 294,230 illegal immigrants. Of that, 148,717 — about 50 percent — were convicted criminals, according to ICE spokeswoman Danielle Bennett.)
You worked for the border patrol in El Paso, Texas. What is Florida like compared with the Mexican border with the United States?
Florida is a border state, but clearly it's not the same dynamic as El Paso. Folks there are coming in by land or over a small stretch of river. Here, it's obviously the ocean and gulf. It's a different set of circumstances. It's a different set of countries. We do a lot of coordinated work with the Coast Guard, Border Patrol and Homeland Security investigations.
What are your thoughts on Attorney General Bill McCollum's proposed immigration bill?
Commenting on proposed legislation for the state of Florida is probably not something I'm able to do for a number of reasons. It's pending legislation, and I think policy needs to be driven from the policymakers. It doesn't change the fact that we're going to continue looking at smart and effective law enforcement consistent with the priorities out there.
What kind of new technology is ICE using these days?
The online detainee locator system is an exceptional tool that we think will provide huge benefits to the public. It's available on our website: www.ice.gov. Assuming the individual is in ICE custody, it's going to let you know where. It's going to provide you with the name of a contact person and a phone number. It may provide you with an additional phone number for the facility.
Why is this important?
Well, first of all, it sort of eliminates the legwork involved in trying to find out where someone is in ICE custody, which is sometimes complex if they've been moved from place to place. And frankly, it dispels some of the criticisms that we're hiding people and that we have spirited them away and we don't want the public to know where the people are detained. That's completely inaccurate. This system proves that's inaccurate.