The Public Advocate

Rep. Diane Black Continues Year Long Fight Against Wasteful Program

Rep. Diane Black (R., Tenn.) / AP
March 1, 2014

Rep. Diane Black (R., Tenn.) has been fighting for more than a year to eliminate a wasteful and abusive office within the Department of Homeland Security that the Obama administration continues despite it being defunded by Congress.

Black put a halt to Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) "public advocate," a lobbying agent for illegal immigrants awaiting deportation. Her amendment to end the program was signed into law by President Barack Obama in March 2013.

Black discovered that the program was still there five months later under a different name.

"It really flew in the face of ‘Gee whiz, I’m an imperial president and I can do whatever I want to do,’" Black said in an interview with the Washington Free Beacon. "When you sign something into law, as the president he is sworn to uphold the law. And to skirt what Congress did really bothered me."

The position, which was given to ICE Senior Adviser Andrew Lorenzen-Strait, serves as a "point of contact for individuals, including those in immigration proceedings, non-governmental organizations and other community and advocacy groups."

"We want the public to know that they have a representative at this agency whose sole duty is to ensure their voice is heard and their interests are recognized," said then-ICE Director John Morton on Feb. 7, 2012.

Black says the role is counterproductive to ICE’s mission, which is to enforce immigration laws.

"In many cases this was really the opposite of what we want our ICE officials to be doing," she said. "That is, for people who are here illegally—and most of these folks had committed a crime—that they were impeding the process that is put in place by our immigration enforcement officers."

Nearly a year after she first introduced an amendment to defund the position, Black was able to secure its passage in a continuing resolution, which was signed into law on March 26, 2013.

Section 567 of the appropriations act stated, "None of the funds made available in this Act may be used to provide funding for the position of Public Advocate within U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement." The "public advocate" would be eliminated for at least a year.

However, in August 2013, the government accountability group Judicial Watch exposed that the administration had simply rebranded the job. Lorenzen-Strait was now the "Deputy Assistant Director Custody Programs and Community Outreach."

The title has nearly identical duties. "It was very, very similar," Black said. "Almost to a T."

The new community outreach position provides a hotline for illegal immigrants facing removal proceedings using the same telephone number as the former public advocate office.

Since the discovery, Black has pressed ICE for answers, but says she has been "stonewalled."

The agency has delayed releasing documents related to the position, forcing Black’s office to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. Her office was able to confirm that Lorenzen-Strait holds a level 15 civil service position, which has a salary range between $99,628 to $129,517.

Meanwhile, Black is pushing H.R. 3732, the Immigration Compliance Enforcement Act, a standalone bill to permanently end the public advocate. The legislation would prevent the creation of any position within ICE that has the same or similar duties of "community outreach."

"This is a permanent law that would make sure that this wouldn’t pop its head back up in another name," she said. Black is hopeful her bill, which currently has 57 cosponsors, will receive a vote. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R., Va.) has indicated there is a path forward for the bill, she said.

Black said her bill is one way for Congress to push back against the "imperial presidency."

"The administration is not respecting the law," she said. "It’s not only in this instance, it’s Obamacare, delay this, or stop that."

"It’s his own bill," Black said. "I mean this is his own idea that was enacted by law, and then to just say, ‘Well, I don’t even have to abide by that?’"

"The big perspective of that is that he’s been very blatant about, ‘I don’t have to abide by the law, I have a phone’ and he has a pen, and he said he can do what he wants to do," she said. "That’s not what our Constitution says, and it’s really, really dangerous where we have a president who is an imperial president and we have gone straight around what our constitution intended, and that was three branches and all of them being equal."

"This is a precedent that is being set, not just in his administration but in future administrations can say, ‘Well, if President Obama did it, I can do it as well.’"