In the midst of the continued debate over immigration reform and the close scrutiny of border security that it brings, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the agency in charge of securing our borders, finally has a new Senate-confirmed leader after more than two years.
Thursday, March 6, in a voice vote, the Senate confirmed Gil Kerlikowski to be the fourth commissioner of CBP and the third to be Senate confirmed. CBP has been without a Senate-confirmed commissioner since the 2009 departure of Ralph W. Basham, who was appointed by President George W. Bush but served a short time during President Obama’s first month in office. Although President Obama nominated and later recess-appointed Alan Bersin as CBP commissioner, who served from 2010 to 2011, Bersin was never confirmed. He departed CBP at the end of 2011 to return to a position as Assistant Secretary for International Affairs at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
Kerlikowski’s confirmation makes CBP the only one of DHS’s three immigration-related agencies to have a permanent head. The recent resignation of Acting Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) John Sandweg has left the leadership of that agency open, with no named Acting Director (Deputy Director Dan Ragsdale becomes de facto head in the meantime). Since U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Director Alejandro Mayorkas was confirmed as DHS Deputy Secretary in December, USCIS’s leadership has also been under “acting” status. President Obama nominated Leon Rodriguez, currently serving at Health and Human Services, to be USCIS Director, but has yet to nominate anyone for the ICE post.
The prolonged period of time during which these key agencies have been without Senate-confirmed leadership has been problematic for the ongoing immigration reform debate. As members of Congress have debated, discussed, and held hearings on various aspects of immigration reform, the lack of political leadership at the agencies has hampered the ability of the agencies to effectively respond to Congressional inquiries and more importantly hampered their ability to fulfill their statutory mandates effectively.
Hopefully, the confirmation of Mr. Kerlikowski will be quickly followed by timely nominations and confirmations of other key immigration agencies at DHS.