The acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement is a former criminal defense attorney who represented accused and convicted murderers, sex offenders and pedophiles and fought for the release of violent convicted offenders — a background some critics say makes him a less than ideal choice to lead the federal government’s second-largest law enforcement agency.
John Sandweg, 38, who was recently named acting director of ICE, worked between 2002 and 2009 defending violent criminals in Arizona, and helping then-governor and current Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano raise campaign funds. Critics questioned Sandweg’s credentials, with one calling him “in no way qualified” and his appointment the latest example of Napolitano’s “blatant politicization” of the agency.
“I am deeply disappointed by this appointment and believe it is disrespectful to the thousands of dedicated professionals at ICE who are working tirelessly to enforce our laws and provide for our security,” said Rep. John Carter, R-Texas, who chairs the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee. “I urge the administration to re-think this appointment and promptly appoint a qualified, confirmable applicant for this essential post.”
A former administration official said news of Sandweg’s installation as acting director was met with disgust and disbelief within parts of DHS.
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“He has zero law enforcement experience and he [is running] our country’s second-largest law enforcement agency — and that’s a real job, it’s not a figure-head position,” the former official said.
Last week, Sandweg took over as acting director of ICE after director John Morton stepped down. He is believed by some to have the inside track for the nomination for the permanent position. Napolitano has announced her own resignation and has already been picked to head the 10-campus University of California system.
In response to a request for comment on Sandweg’s appointment, DHS provided an internal message Napolitano sent to senior DHS staff on Aug. 2, in which the outgoing secretary praised Sandweg.
“Since joining DHS in 2009, John has served as one of my closest advisors on matters related to immigration enforcement, border security, and federal law enforcement,” Napolitano wrote. “John brings significant experience in the development and implementation of our border security and immigration enforcement strategies and will continue to build on our common sense approach that prioritizes public safety and national security.”
ICE is the main investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security and is responsible for enforcement of immigration law. As acting director, Sandweg oversees more than 20,000 employees in offices in all 50 states and 47 foreign countries. David Aguilar, who recently retired as deputy commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, told FoxNews.com Sandweg is more than up to the job.
“I think he’s extremely qualified to serve as the acting director of ICE and that’s in my opinion, that’s the opinion of a 35-year cop,” said Aguilar, who says he worked closely with Sandweg over the last five years on issues specific to immigration and the border.
As for Sandweg’s history as a criminal defense attorney, Aguilar said: “Frankly, somebody’s got to do it, and he did it well from what I understand. I actually believe that will be of use for him, having seen and experienced both sides of the law enforcement judicial system.”
A review by FoxNews.com of Sandweg’s previous career as an Arizona lawyer showed a history of fighting for the release of violent convicted criminals, including one who pleaded guilty to attempting to blow up an airplane, as well as multiple sex offenders.