National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America

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The Scattershot Approach to Immigration Enforcement

February 06, 2009 - Posted by Katherine Vargas

Yesterday, the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) released a report documenting the shift in enforcement priorities by ICE. It seems that the Department of Homeland Security prefers spending their dollars in the false appearance of safety rather than going after real threats. The National Fugitive Operations Program is the fastest-growing program and quite costly; in its first five years, it has already spent more than $625 million. ICE has stated that the program gives top priority to cases involving violent fugitives, gang members and, child sex offenders; however MPI’s report 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.” (Collateral Damage: An Examination of ICE’s Fugitive Operations Program, February 5, 2009)


How’s this for false advertisement: Bush Administration Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, bragged in a “state of immigration” press briefing in 2008 that:


“We have increased the number of fugitive operations teams dramatically. [Resulting] in a record number of arrests to fugitives in fiscal year 2008, which is 34,000. (…) That is a dramatic increase in removing fugitives and vindicating the authority of our courts to make decisions about who ought to be removed from the country. (Remarks by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff on the State of Immigration and the No Match Rule, October 23, 2008)


What he failed to mention in his “success report” is that the great majority of these “fugitives” were not violent criminals but rather immigrant workers, fathers and mothers – many without a deportation order or any criminal offense, picked up by chance in their own homes, or because they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.


For an enforcement program that advertises itself as having a national security focus, it surely is arbitrarily targeting those who don’t really pose a risk to our country. This is a surefire way to increase profiling and random arrests without any prioritization, and if it is letting serious criminals off the hook, it is a major public safety problem.


Alluding to this, law professor Peter L. Markowitz said on an interview with the New York Times,


“It looks like what happened here is that the law enforcement strategy was hijacked by the political agenda of the administration,” (Despite Vow, Target of Immigrant Raids Shifted, February 4, 2009)


Rather than having a politicized, scattershot approach to immigration enforcement — pumping up numbers, pushing for misleading quotas —we need a solutions-approach to immigration, one that puts in place enforceable laws that can be effectively enforced.

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