National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America


Report to Deport: Another Distraction from Fixing Our Broken Immigration System

July 30, 2008

Washington, DC – According to news reports, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Assistant Secretary Julie Myers told a national TV audience that the Bush Administration would soon announce a “self-deportation” policy.  Speaking through a translator on Univision network’s Sunday public affairs program “Al Punto,” Myers indicated ICE would ask people to get their personal affairs in this country in order and voluntarily come forward for deportation.  The following is a statement by Ali Noorani, Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum, a non-partisan, pro-immigrant advocacy organization.

Just when you thought the Bush Administration would ride quietly into the sunset, along comes another harebrained scheme that can’t have been carefully thought out.  We are not going to deport our way out of our current immigration mess, nor is it likely that most or even many of the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants here will choose to leave on their own.

Even with an economy headed south, the chances that people will also head south of the border is unlikely, at best.  The worst-hit communities in America probably provide more opportunity than rural Guatemala or other destinations from which immigrants are coming.  While the flow of undocumented immigrants has slowed since the economy first started to sputter in 2000, it is still the case that the demand for legal immigration from our economy and families far outstrips the supply of legal immigration from the government.

This new policy is a tacit recognition on the part of ICE and Ms. Myers that raids in homes and businesses are terrorizing immigrant communities and families.  Add to that the numerous reports of deaths in detention, limited or non-existent access to basic health care and prescribed medications, and the hodge-podge of for-profit and government run state and local prisons to which ICE detainees are assigned, and the fear of ICE is palpable in neighborhoods across the country.  But even as we escalate police-state tactics, the majority of immigrants are not going to give up on their American Dream, nor the dreams they gave for their children.  The majority of the undocumented have been here for years, have careers, friends, mortgages, and children – often U.S. citizens – that bind them to their American communities.

Most likely, voluntary deportation will be used as another enticement for those already in ICE custody or facing removal to sign away what few rights they have so that ICE can expedite their deportation without any of those pesky American traditions like due process, a day in court, or – God forbid – seeing a lawyer to explore your legal options.  As ICE spokesperson Kelly Nantel recently told Congressional Quarterly, “We are in the deportation business (June 16, 2008),” and apparently, even with the increased raids, business is not good enough.

This is just the latest gimmick from the Bush Administration, which, having failed to achieve systematic immigration reform in Congress, is now content to loose the hounds on immigrant communities.  Tellingly, they do not seem to have the same interest in going after bottom-feeding employers, either for hiring easily exploitable workers or for the wide range of labor violations unearthed at firms like the recently raided Agriprocessors slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa.

Clearly, whoever wins the White House in November will dial back some of the most egregious new policies of ICE and other parts of the immigration enforcement industrial complex.  Restoring due process to immigration law, basic human rights, and fair treatment of detainees ought to be high on the list.  Working with Congress to rebuild our out-of-date legal immigration system and getting the estimated 12 million people here without authorization into the system and on the road to legality ought to be very high priorities, too.

Until then, all the raids, all the press conferences, all the new toys and buzzers at the border, and all the new approaches to getting people to leave is just throwing good tax-payer money after bad.  This is nothing more than a modern day “Trail of Tears” – enticing immigrants with the dream of fair treatment and a better life, only to find themselves on a path to permanent exile.

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