Last month, LUPE hosted students from Lafayette College in Easton, PA, who traveled to the Rio Grande Valley to learn more about the immigration system and its effects on the people living along the border. At the end of their week with us, as part of our trip evaluation, one of the students wrote the question, “Why is ICE so determined to deport immigrants?”
That is not a question that can be easily addressed in an article or blog post–and it may not be a question we will ever fully answer. But I wanted to offer some insight into the inner workings of ICE and the Border Patrol to give our readers an idea of why agents will go to great lengths to get attain a deportation–even harassment and violating immigration rights.
So let’s get into it. A 2010 article in the Washington Post gives us the background to the ever expanding deportation numbers under the Obama administration:
Seeking to reverse a steep drop in deportations, U.S. immigration authorities have set controversial new quotas for agents. At the same time, officials have stepped back from an Obama administration commitment to focus enforcement efforts primarily on illegal immigrants who are dangerous or have violent criminal backgrounds.
In a Feb. 22 memo, James M. Chaparro, head of ICE detention and removal operations, wrote that, despite record deportations of criminals, the overall number of removals was down. While ICE was on pace to achieve “the Agency goal of 150,000 criminal alien removals” for the year ending Sept. 30, total deportations were set to barely top 310,000, “well under the Agency’s goal of 400,000,” and nearly 20 percent behind last year’s total of 387,000, he wrote.
This sets up the situation where immigration officials are seeing each person as a number to meet their goals, rather than a human being with rights that should be given his or her due process. While the official policy of the Obama administration was to focus on the worst offenders, in practice, efforts were placed on attaining the 400,000 deportation goal. The same article continues:
“For ICE leadership, it’s not about keeping the community safe. It’s all about chasing this 400,000 number,” said Chris Crane, spokesman for the American Federation of Government Employees Council 118, which represents ICE workers.
Since November, ICE field offices in Northern California, Dallas and Chicago have issued new evaluation standards and work plans for enforcement agents who remove illegal immigrants from jails and prisons. In some cases, for example, the field offices are requiring that agents process an average of 40 to 60 cases a month to earn “excellent” ratings.
Such standards present a problem, said one San Francisco area agent who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid reprisal. Instead of taking a day to prepare a case against a legal resident with multiple convictions for serious crimes, agents may choose to process a drunk driver or nonviolent offender who agrees to leave the country voluntarily, because it will take only hours.
The Department of Homeland Security is adamant that they do not use quotas. Rather, they call them “annual performance goals”. To meet such goals, agencies must devise strategies that target low-priority immigrants and create incentives for increased arrests.
In an article published last week, USA Today reports:
U.S. immigration officials laid out plans last year that would ratchet up expulsions of immigrants convicted of minor crimes as part of an urgent push to make sure the government would not fall short of its criminal deportation targets, new records obtained by USA TODAY show.
Among those new tactics — detailed in interviews and internal e-mails — were trolling state driver’s license records for information about foreign-born applicants, dispatching U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to traffic safety checkpoints conducted by police departments, and processing more illegal immigrants who had been booked into jails for low-level offenses. Records show ICE officials in Washington approved some of those steps.
Colorlines Magazine reports on one incentive program in operation along the US-Canada border:
“…this is the first public data on USBP discretionary bonus programs that include cash bonuses, vacation awards, and distribution of gift cards to border patrol agents from Home Depot and Macys. Data shows bonuses reached up to $2,500 a year per agent.”
Because of such a focus on numbers, there begins to form a culture of arrest:
…USBP agents act on the assumption that no matter where they operate within the United States, they may arrest any noncitizen—whether a tourist or a long‐term legal resident with a driver’s license—whenever that person is not carrying detailed documentation that provides proof of status. But USBP’s records also show that the agents are not genuinely interested in what documents the law might require noncitizens to carry. Instead, USBP’s demand for “papers” is universal, resulting in an enforcement culture that maximizes arrest rates.
Once in custody, a large percentage of detainees face some form of abuse. A 2011 report titled A Culture of Cruelty is based on interviews with 12,895 individuals who were in Border Patrol custody and were subsequently deported. The report, coauthored by statistician and research consultant Dr. Katerina Sinclair, found that “…99.7% of people, plus or minus 0.5%, are experiencing some sort of violation by Border Patrol when they are in custody.” Violations range from denial of water or access to legal aid to physical and verbal abuse.
Now, with immigration reform looming on the horizon, and with leaders from both parties advocating for more immigration enforcement, we must ask ourselves, will we allow immigration reform to increase wrongful arrests, violations of due process, and treatment of people as if they are mere means to reach a numerical goal? Or will we fight to reform the immigration enforcement institutions so they respect the rights of all?
Let us know why you think ICE and immigration officials are so determined to deport our community members in the comments below.