New DHS picks raise hopes for immigration reform

President Obama announced today that he plans to nominate John Morton to be assistant secretary of homeland security for immigration and customs enforcement (ICE). Morton is a longtime Justice Department official and current acting deputy assistant attorney general of the criminal division. Esther Olavarria, a Senior Fellow and Director of Immigration Policy at the Center for American Progress, is Obama’s pick for deputy assistant secretary of homeland security for policy.

Olavarria, in particular, signals a major change for DHS.

Not only does she come from the progressive CAP, but she spent almost 10 years as counsel to Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Refugees. Her work there included proposals on comprehensive immigration reform. Olavarria started her career as an immigrants’ advocate when she was a managing attorney of the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center; she has also been directing attorney of the American Immigration Lawyers Association Pro Bono Project and staff attorney at the Haitian Refugee Center in Miami.

Here’s what the National Immigration Forum had to say about today’s choices:

In selecting John Morton, the President has chosen a seasoned federal prosecutor who understands the importance of documenting the facts and ensuring government transparency. These skills will be immediately relevant to the review and assessment ordered by Secretary Janet Napolitano of controversial and loosely managed immigration programs, including partnerships with state and local law enforcement agencies and detention conditions for immigrants. The head of ICE will be key in moving DHS towards the vision Secretary Napolitano articulated in her recent directive, “Smart, resolute enforcement by the department can keep Americans safe, foster legal immigration to America, protect legitimate commerce, and lay the groundwork for a more comprehensive reform.”

Esther Olavarria is deeply committed to the goal of crafting immigration policies that are both enforceable and enforced. No person is better suited to help the Secretary and the President understand what ails our current immigration mess and what needs to be done to restore legality, transparency, and fairness to our immigration system.

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