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2008-2010 Posts, Rape and Sexual Assault

Chief of Immigration Enforcement Awards Employee for Blackface Costume, References to Krome Detention Center

 

Published: April 9, 2008
WASHINGTON — The nation’s top immigration enforcement official ordered the destruction of photographs of an office Halloween party that showed a white agency employee dressed as a black detainee, according to a Congressional investigation whose report was released on Tuesday.

James Estrin/The New York Times

Julie L. Myers, an assistant secretary of homeland security, had a role in awarding a top prize to a white employee dressed as a black detainee for an office Halloween costume contest.

The Democratic staff of the House Committee on Homeland Security said Julie L. Myers, the assistant secretary of homeland security for immigration and customs enforcement, ordered that the photos be removed from a digital camera in a “coordinated effort to conceal” her role in awarding one of the top costume prizes to the employee.

The report said Ms. Myers, who was acting assistant secretary at the time, might have moved to cover up the events to avoid derailing her Senate confirmation.

The Congressional committee provided no evidence of an intentional cover-up.

Kelly A. Nantel, an agency spokeswoman, confirmed Tuesday that Ms. Myers had ordered that the photographs be deleted, but said she had done so because she belatedly realized that the costume was inappropriate and that it would be offensive if the photos were included in any agency publications.

But Ms. Nantel said that Ms. Myers never tried to cover up that the event had occurred. In fact, Ms. Myers sent a message to all agency employees two days after the party acknowledging that “a few of the costumes were inappropriate.”

“To suggest she somehow coordinated a cover-up is absolutely false,” Ms. Nantel said.

News reports about the offensive costume first surfaced last year, after an employee who attended the party at the agency headquarters filed a complaint with the homeland security committee.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which has 16,000 employees, enforces immigrations laws and operates detention centers holding about 30,000 people awaiting trial or deportation.

Ms. Myers had been a judge at the Halloween contest. The staff member who won the “most original costume” prize wore a dreadlock wig, what looked like a prison jumpsuit and black face paint.

“I’m a Jamaican detainee from Krome — obviously, I’ve escaped,” the employee, referring to a detention center in Miami, announced to the judges, provoking laughter, according to the Congressional report.

Ms. Myers then posed for photographs with the employee — whose name was not released — smiling for the camera.

The report said that, under orders from Ms. Myers, the employee was reprimanded after the party and told that he would be relocated from the agency headquarters to a field office. The Congressional committee staff said that the move was an effort to conceal the event.

Photographs of the winning costume were not, however, permanently deleted from the camera. Agency employees were able to recover them, and a picture of a smiling Ms. Myers next to the winner is in the report.

Ms. Myers’s nomination to oversee the immigration agency was delayed while questions surfaced about her qualifications and her ties to the White House and to some senior officials. Ms. Myers, a niece of Gen. Richard B. Myers of the Air Force, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was confirmed by the Senate in December.

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