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Targeted Enforcement To Make Us Safer…

March 31, 2009 - Posted by Mario Moreno


Photo by Gianni D.

Two recent stories indicate that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is rethinking how it conducts home and workplace immigration raids.  The anti-immigration groups and their Congressional allies see this as a sign that the Obama Administration is going “soft” on illegal immigration, where as supporters of immigration reform see it as a good sign that scarce enforcement resources will be directed at actual threats.


On Sunday, Spencer Hsu of the Washington Post reported:


Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has delayed a series of proposed immigration raids and other enforcement actions at U.S. workplaces in recent weeks, asking agents in her department to apply more scrutiny to the selection and investigation of targets as well as the timing of raids, federal officials said.


A senior department official said the delays signal a pending change in whom agents at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement choose to prosecute -- increasing the focus on businesses and executives instead of ordinary workers… Another DHS official said Napolitano plans to release protocols this week to ensure more consistent work-site investigations and less "haphazard" decision-making.


The Los Angeles Times ran with a similar story on Tuesday:


The policy is in line with comments that President Obama made during last year's campaign, when he said enforcement efforts had failed because they focused on illegal immigrants rather than on the companies that hired them.


"There is a supply side and a demand side," one Homeland Security official said. "Like other law enforcement philosophies, there is a belief that by focusing more on the demand side, you cut off the supply."


There is ample evidence that DHS under the Bush Administration was telling Congress one thing and doing another.  What they said they were doing was protecting homeland security by targeting serious violent criminals, known gang-members, child pornographers, child predators and the like using macho-sounding “Fugitive Operations Teams.”


In reality, they were going after whoever was easiest to catch, whoever happened to be around, and were even filling arrest quotas by doing drive-by sweeps of local 7-11s and other places immigrants congregate. 


As the Washington Post and others reported in February, “Fugitive Operations Teams” is a bit of a misnomer.  After a night of striking out, the Post reports, ICE officers were commended to cruise the local convenience stores (Conflicting Accounts of an ICE Raid in Md. (By N.C. Aizenman, February 18, 2009; Page A01):


The boss was not happy. His elite team of immigration officers had been raiding targets across Prince George's and Montgomery counties all night long in search of fugitive and criminal immigrants but had netted only a handful.


As the unit regrouped in its Baltimore office that frigid January morning two years ago, the supervisor warned members that they were well behind a Washington-mandated annual quota of 1,000 arrests per team and ordered them back out to boost their tally.


"I don't care where you get more arrests, we need more numbers," he said, according to one account in a summary of an internal investigation. The boss then added that the agents could go to any street corner and find a group of illegal immigrants, according to the summary, not previously made public.


This is consistent with reports on the mistargeting of enforcement resources uncovered by the Migration Policy Institute.  Their report, released in February, Collateral Damage: An Examination of ICE’s Fugitive Operations Program, found that:


…73 percent of the nearly 97,000 people arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) fugitive operations teams between the program’s inception in 2003 and early 2008 were unauthorized immigrants without criminal records.


Despite the National Fugitive Operations Program’s mandate to apprehend dangerous fugitives, arrests of fugitive aliens with criminal convictions have represented a steadily declining share of total arrests by the teams, accounting for just 9 percent of total arrests in 2007, down from 32 percent in 2003, according to the Department of Homeland Security’s own estimates. (MPI Press Release, February 4, 2009)


According to the Immigration Justice Clinic at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University,


ICE has created tremendous bureaucratic incentives for fugitive operation teams to abandon focus on high-priority targets in favor of a shotgun approach of undisciplined home raids. ICE’s home raids have primarily led to the arrests of individuals who posed no risk to society and have come at a significant cost to immigrant families and to ICE’s own enforcement priorities


That bears repeating:

individuals who posed no risk to society and have come at a significant cost to immigrant families and to ICE’s own enforcement priorities “


Then there is the much-heralded 287(g) program to enlist local police in enforcing federal civil immigration law – one of the favorites of the deportation-only movement.  According to numerous sources, this program suffers from similar mission creep. 


GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, discovered that the 287(g) program lacks oversight, is not targeting the serious violent offenders and fugitives it was supposed to target, and is probably violating people’s civil rights.  As Angela Kelley, Director of the Immigration Policy Center, said at the time of the GAO report’s release:


The report echoes the conclusions reached by others who have studied local law enforcement of immigration laws.  The costs of these policies are enormous to communities' safety, civil rights, and pocketbooks. As Secretary Napolitano and her staff begin their review of immigration enforcement tactics, we urge them to consider the totality of evidence coming from the community and acknowledge the full scope of the problems presented by 287(g).  We are confident that this administration will find a new way forward and advance policies that restore the rule of law and respect civil rights.


Reports from Justice Strategies and the ACLU of North Carolina, in conjunction with the University of North Carolina School of Law, echo the concerns that oversight, accountability, and the program’s basic mission were loosely defined and even more loosely implemented, to say the least.


So the opponents of immigration and of immigration reform bemoan the idea of targeting enforcement at real threats.  They would prefer that resources are used as they are now: breaking down doors in the middle of the night to remove parents from families and indiscriminately rounding up suspected immigrants here without papers.  And some television commentators have the temerity to call the “pro-enforcement.”


We, who are often labeled “anti-enforcement,” see targeted enforcement as an encouraging sign that this President and this Administration are more concerned with actual security than in headlines and scaring immigrants willy-nilly.


Our communities deserve targeted enforcement to make us safer, regardless of the political spin the opponents of immigration reform hope to put on it.


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