Customs Agents Ordered to Protect Relief Workers

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (search) agency acted Wednesday to ensure it has adequate numbers of employees in the Gulf Coast region to continue protecting rescuers and helping New Orleans police. (search)

In an internal memorandum distributed to Customs Enforcement employees, the agency's director of human resources, Christine M. Greco, directed workers to withdraw offers to volunteer for hurricane relief duty with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (search). Both agencies are under the Homeland Security Department (search).

"We want to be careful we're not stretched too thin," said a spokesman for Customs Enforcement, Dean Boyd. "It's a daunting task helping ... local police."

Boyd said the decision was made with FEMA's approval. The disaster agency last week solicited more than 1,000 volunteers from elsewhere in the Homeland Security Department for rescue support roles such as helping hurricane victims to fill out paper work and informing victims where to seek help.

Greco's memo, obtained by The Associated Press, told Customs Enforcement employees who volunteered with FEMA that, "You will instead be part of the ICE effort to support law enforcement activities."

Greco praised the hundreds of employees who already had volunteered to work under FEMA, calling them "valiant and considerate." She said any Customs Enforcement employees unhappy with the new volunteer arrangement "may make their desires known through their chain of command."

Boyd said the immigration and customs agency already has deployed more than 700 law enforcement and support workers to the Gulf Coast to provide security for FEMA rescue workers and provide law enforcement support, plus equipment that includes detention buses and mobile command centers.