by Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger
For the past several months, the Obama administration has relentlessly professed its commitment to targeting only the most dangerous “criminal aliens.” But a new report released this week by the Immigration Policy Center suggests that misguided Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) polices render the administration virtually powerless to fulfill its promise.
As Braden Goyette at Campus Progress reports, ICE’s practice of outsourcing immigration enforcement to local police through the 287(g) and Secure Communities programs undermines the administration’s stated priority of deporting “the worst of the worst.” She writes:
By using these partnerships to increase its deportation figures, the federal government gives up control over front-line enforcement to local police, opening up the door to subjective judgment calls—essentially, all of the problems that plague everyday policing.
Law enforcement charged with enforcing immigration laws—particularly in areas where heavy enforcement is politically popular—routinely make discretionary arrests in direct defiance of the Obama administration’s stated priorities. As a result, tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants have been deported because of minor crimes, such as traffic offenses.
A bigger issue, though, is that ICE’s enforcement programs are fundamentally out of line with the Obama administration’s avowed commitment to targeting criminals. The Secure Communities program, which requires local law enforcement agencies to share fingerprints with ICE, is a key example of this disconnect. The program routinely nets even the victims of violent crime. Secure Communities is expanding rapidly, despite its deviance from the agency’s stated objective of pursuing criminals.
ICE programs target domestic violence victims
Elise Foley at the Washington Independent reports that one issue arising with Secure Communities is the detention and deportation of undocumented victims of domestic violence, whose fingerprints have been entered into police records.
Foley notes that, in response to one such incident, ICE officials told the Washington Post that they would pursue action on all undocumented immigrants brought to their attention, in spite of agency directives:
ICE cannot and will not turn a blind eye to those who violate federal immigration law,” said Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Brian Hale. “While ICE’s enforcement efforts prioritize convicted criminal aliens, ICE maintains the discretion to take action on any alien it encounters.
Of course, ICE can exercise discretion by refusing to take action against victims of violent crime—particularly since doing so defies the administration’s stated goals—but chooses not to. And, without laws in place that clearly limit the scope of ICE’s immigration enforcement programs, the Obama administration’s “priorities” amount to little more than empty rhetoric.
Family fights deportation of son with Down Syndrome
“Discretion” is a word that arises again and again in immigration discourse. A common criticism of the dysfunctional immigration system is that overcrowding and under-staffing discourages officials from exercising their discretion in favor of undocumented immigrants who might have legitimate grounds to remain in the country.
Some of these individuals include legal residents who are deported on a technicality and immigrant soldiers who deported after serving in the U.S. military.
One such individual, whose story is detailed by Change.org’s Prerna Lal, is Hee Chun Kang, a Korean immigrant with Down Syndrome who awaits deportation on a technicality:
Hee Chun and Hyo Chun were 10 and 7 years of age, respectively, when their parents brought them to the United States in 1993. They overstayed their tourist visas, but due to a family petition filed on their behalf, the parents became legal residents last year. However, Hee Chun and Hyo Chun were both over 21 by the time a visa was available, so they aged-out and now await deportation from the United States, away from their parents.
Lal cites several reasons that Kang’s deportation is unnecessary, most of which boil down to the fact that immigration officials have the power to defer the deportation order due to Kang’s highly irregular situation.
Children deported without parents become fodder for drug cartels
ICE’s demonstrated enforcement priorities—as evidenced in the cases mentioned above—hint at the lack of humanity inherent in deportations. But a Texas Observer investigation written by Melissa Del Bosque (with support from The Nation Institute’s Investigative Fund) underscores the brutality of a system that relentlessly pursues deportation quotas at the expense of the most vulnerable—children.
Every day, scores of children attempt to cross the border in the U.S., either with family members, or in an effort to reunite with family on the other. These children often end up alone and in the custody of the Border Patrol, which sends them back to Mexico, where they are housed in shelters until they are claimed. According to Del Bosque’s sources, 90,000 children have been deported to Mexico without parents and 13,500 have not been claimed. Of the unclaimed, many fall into the hands of drug cartels and smugglers.
It’s a humanitarian crisis that, according to Del Bosque, could easily be reversed if government officials on both sides of the border abandoned their politics for the sake of protecting thousands of lost children:
Mexico and the United States have binational accords and a repatriation program to protect migrant children, yet neither country ensures they’re safely returned home. The U.S. Border Patrol and [Mexico's social service agency] could set up a database to monitor children at risk to prevent them from ending up on the streets. The U.S. Congress could also pass comprehensive immigration reform that includes a family reunification process to prevent children from being dumped in Mexican shelters. The Border Patrol already has a congressional mandate to screen for vulnerable kids and refer them to U.S. agencies that can help, yet advocates say it’s not being done.
Evidently, good intentions and high-minded priorities mean little when it comes to enforcement. The Obama administration needs to pull its immigration practices into line with its professed priorities—or children, victims, and other innocents will continue to slip through the cracks for the sake of meeting quotas and breaking records.
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