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Top Official Says Feds May Not Process Illegals Referred From Arizona

ICE Chief John Morton

ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton, seen here, wrote the Aug. 20 memo to Peter Vincent, principal legal advisor and head of the agency's removal operations.AP

This article was updated at 4:36 p.m. on May 21. See editor's note at the bottom of the article.

A top Department of Homeland Security official reportedly said his agency will not necessarily process illegal immigrants referred to them by Arizona authorities.

John Morton, assistant secretary of homeland security for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, made the comment during a meeting on Wednesday with the editorial board of the Chicago Tribune, the newspaper reports.

"I don't think the Arizona law, or laws like it, are the solution," Morton told the newspaper.

The best way to reduce illegal immigration is through a comprehensive federal approach, he said, and not a patchwork of state laws.

The law, which criminalizes being in the state illegally and requires authorities to check suspects for immigration status, is not "good government," Morton said.

In response to Morton's comments, DHS officials said President Obama has ordered the Department of Justice to examine the civil rights and other implications of the law.

"That review will inform the government's actions going forward," DHS spokesman Matt Chandler told Fox News on Friday.

Fox News legal analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano said ICE is not obligated to process illegal immigrants referred to them by Arizona authorities.

"ICE has the legal discretion to accept or not to accept persons delivered to it by non-federal personnel," Napolitano said. "It also has the discretion to deport or not to deport persons delivered to it by any government agents, even its own."

Morton, according to a biography posted on ICE's website, began his federal service in 1994 and has held numerous positions at the Department of Justice, including as a trial attorney and special assistant to the general counsel in the former Immigration and Naturalization Service and as counsel to the deputy attorney general.

Border apprehensions in Arizona, where roughly 500,000 illegal immigrants are estimated to be living, are up 6 percent since October, according to federal statistics. Roughly 6.5 million residents live in Arizona.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-AL, said it appeared the Obama administration is "nullifying existing law" and suggested Morton may not be the right person for his post if he fails to enforce federal immigration law.

"If he feels he cannot enforce the law, he shouldn't have the job," Sessions told Fox News. "That makes him, in my view, not fulfilling the responsibilities of his office."

Sessions said the U.S. government has "systematically failed" to enforce federal immigration law and claimed Morton's statement is an indication that federal officials do not plan on working with Arizona authorities regarding its controversial law.

"They're telegraphing to every ICE agency in America that they really don't intend on cooperating with Arizona," Sessions said. "The federal government should step up and do it. It's their responsibility."

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-AL, said it appeared the Obama administration is "nullifying existing law" and suggested Morton may not be the right person for his post if he fails to enforce federal immigration law.

"If he feels he cannot enforce the law, he shouldn't have the job," Sessions told Fox News. "That makes him, in my view, not fulfilling the responsibilities of his office."

Sessions said the U.S. government has "systematically failed" to enforce federal immigration law and claimed Morton's statement is an indication that federal officials do not plan on working with Arizona authorities regarding its controversial law.

"They're telegraphing to every ICE agency in America that they really don't intend on cooperating with Arizona," Sessions said. "The federal government should step up and do it. It's their responsibility."

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly attributed a quote by Judge Andrew Napolitano to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.