Nomination for Immigration Agency Chief Imperiled Following Halloween Costume Incident

The nomination prospects for Julie Myers to take charge at the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency took a major downturn Wednesday after Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., placed a temporary hold on the nominee following a Halloween costume party gone wrong.

Any senator can place a hold on a nomination, but the move led one senior Senate Republican aide to tell FOX News that the nomination now "could very well be dead."

Myers, tapped to be the nation's top immigration enforcer, was one of three judges at a costume party at a Homeland Security Department office party last Wednesday. The panel awarded the "best original costume" prize to an employee who had dressed in dreadlocks, dark makeup and a prison uniform.

The outfit, viewed by some staffers as racially insensitive, caused enough department embarrassment to lead not only Myers to apologize, but her boss, Secretary Michael Chertoff, as well.

The employee who wore the costume has not been identified, but ICE spokeswoman Kelly Nantel said he was counseled by his supervisor. He was not wearing blackface but makeup that was a darker color than his skin, Nantel said.

Myers and others who saw him could not tell he was wearing makeup, Nantel said, and they learned he wore makeup when some employees complained later that day.

Myers currently is assistant secretary in charge of ICE, but her tenure depends on being confirmed by the Senate — she received a recess appointment from President Bush but that appointment expires in January.

McCaskill, who has locked horns with Myers before over agency enforcement of illegal immigrant hiring, wrote Myers a letter saying, "Given the nature of the functions performed by ICE, this incident strongly undermines the claim that you can effectively lead the organization."

A photo of Myers with the employee and any others taken by the official photographer showing the costume were discarded, Nantel said.

McCaskill spokeswoman Adrianne Marsh said the senator will keep the hold on Myers until she gets answers to several questions, including why a photograph of Myers with the costumed employee was destroyed.

In the letter, McCaskill also asks for a complete explanation of what happened at the party, including a detailed account of Myers' interaction with the costume wearer and an explanation of why Chertoff said she was "surprised" by the costume.

Myers was given a recess appointment last year after Democrats objected to her over what they said was a lack of policy experience. She has since won over many of her critics, including all Democrats but McCaskill on the Senate Homeland Security Committee, which approved her nomination in September.

But one committee Democrat, Sen. Daniel Akaka of Hawaii said Wednesday he thinks the nomination should now be reconsidered. The Senate was set to vote out the nomination by the end of next week.

Myers apologized to employees last Friday in an e-mail, saying some costumes were found to be offensive. On Friday, she called the National Association of African Americans at DHS to inform the group of what had happened, according to a letter sent to association members by the group's vice president, Sjon Shavers.

"I and the senior management at ICE deeply regret that this happened," Myers said in her e-mail, which the department's public affairs office provided to The Associated Press. "As the head of the agency, I have the responsibility to ensure every employee is a valued member of the ICE team."

Shavers, an ICE special agent, said he learned of the incident from Myers and that his group had not received any complaints.

"These kinds of things, incidents, happen all the time, so we handle them on a case-by-case basis," Shavers said.

FOX News' Trish Turner and The Associated Press contributed to this report.