Fed agents back congressional probe of discrimination claims

The largest federal law enforcement association in the country has thrown its weight behind a call for a congressional inquiry into an alleged pattern of racial discrimination within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

The Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA), which represents some 22,000 federal agents in 50 law enforcement agencies, has directed a letter to Congress in support of Ruben Gonzalez, a high-ranking supervisor within DHS' Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Houston. The letter, addressed to U.S. Rep. Nick Lampson, D-Texas, stresses that FLEOA “supports any and all efforts to eliminate bias and inequities in hiring and promotion processes by Federal law enforcement agencies.”

Gonzalez is a catalyst behind the growing chorus of Hispanic agents calling for congressional action on the issue. Gonzalez's attorney, Ron Schmidt, claims the racial discrimination within ICE is so pervasive that it has fostered a dysfunctional agency culture that poses a real threat to national security.
Schmidt is representing a group of some 400 current and former Hispanic federal agents who have filed a class-action discrimination lawsuit against DHS. The litigation alleges that the Hispanic agents have endured a pattern of racial discrimination within ICE -- and its predecessor agency, U.S. Customs -- that has prevented the best and brightest from advancing within the agency. In addition to monetary damages, the Hispanic agents are asking the court to order the government to cease its “illegal and discriminatory conduct," the class-action lawsuit states.

DHS officials claim the discrimination charges are without merit and are not supported by statistical evidence. Gonzalez, who is a participant in the class-action case, contends statistics do reflect, however, that from 1999 to 2002 he applied for more than 30 supervisory positions.

Gonzalez made the “best-qualified” list for each post sought, “yet he was never interviewed for any of them,” according to the class-action lawsuit. When he finally did receive a promotion in March 2002, he was forced to move his family from the East Coast to Houston.

In an effort to shine a light on the racial discrimination problems within DHS, and ICE in particular, Gonzalez in January sent a letter to U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, asking for his help in spurring a congressional inquiry. Cornyn responded by sending Gonzalez’s letter on to his superiors at DHS -- the very same group Gonzalez alleges has allowed the discriminatory atmosphere to flourish under their watch.

Cornyn then informed Gonzalez that he was precluded from getting involved in the matter due to Senate ethics rules.

Earlier this year, Gonzalez also reached out to Congressman Lampson for assistance as well. Unlike Cornyn, Lampson took action.

Lampson directed a letter in late June to Chairman John N. Hostettler of the Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security, and Claims in the House Committee of the Judiciary. In that letter, Lampson asks the subcommittee “to review (Gonzalez’s) comments on the issue of discrimination against Hispanic Americans in law enforcement, and report back to (him) with their recommendations and findings.”

FLEOA’s letter to Lampson adds even more muscle to Gonzalez’s effort to get Congress to address the discrimination problems within DHS.

The FLEOA letter:

July 12, 2004

Honorable Nick Lampson
U.S. House of Representatives
405 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Congressman Lampson:

As the Legislative Vice President of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA), on behalf of our 22,000 members, I wanted to thank you for your support of our member and your constituent, Ruben Gonzalez.

FLEOA supports any and all efforts to eliminate bias and inequities in hiring and promotion processes by Federal law enforcement agencies. The use of any other subjective criteria for hiring and promotion other than education, experience and merit needs to be addressed and corrected.

If we are to continue to attract and retain the best and brightest into Federal law enforcement, this process needs to be as objective and as level a playing field as is humanly possible, and we support your efforts and the efforts of the House Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Claims to which you referred Mr. Gonzalez’ letter of complaint.

If I may be of any assistance to you, please feel free to contact me at the number above.

Sincerely,

Matthew L. Issman
National Legislative Vice President

Issman says U.S. Rep. Hostettler, R-Indiana, also has been sent a copy of the same letter.

Issman adds: “We hope this (congressional) committee and the lawsuit that Ruben Gonzalez is participating in will shine the light of day on this issue.”

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