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A disturbing new article in USA Today, based on a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by the ACLU of North Carolina, highlights how the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been focused on meeting deportation quotas by targeting, arresting and deporting low-priority immigrants. Despite a stated policy of prioritizing criminals, ICE aggressively goes after people for offenses such as driving without a license in order to meet their quota of 400,000 deportations a year (ICE euphemistically calls these quotas “performance measures”). An analysis of DHS data demonstrates that the department deported hundreds of thousands of “low-priority” people last year – many of the same immigrants that President Obama and a broad majority of Americans believe should be able to gain legal status and work their way towards becoming American citizens.
Said Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice Education Fund:
This is outrageous. Why are ICE and DHS intent on deporting many of the same people the President wants to put on a path to citizenship? Given the work permit program for DREAMers and the guidelines of prosecutorial discretion, the overall number of deportations should be going down not up. There simply aren’t enough ‘dangerous criminals’ within the undocumented population to meet an annual 400,000 quota. But for political reasons, some in DHS are interested in playing politics and appeasing hardliners, even it means ripping families apart and deporting many who would likely be eligible for legal status and citizenship under the immigration reform that could become law in the next few months.
The article states:
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…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.
According new America’s Voice Education Fund analysis of DHS data, 45% of all people deported in FY 2012 were immigrants who had no criminal records at all – immigrants who might easily have qualified to earn citizenship under the new reform plans under development in Congress. Further, while 55% of individuals deported last fiscal year were classified as “criminals” by the Department, less than half (37%) were convicted of homicide, sexual offenses, drug offenses, and “driving under the influence” (DUI). The majority of “criminal aliens” deported (63%) had been convicted of other crimes, including immigration violations and low-level traffic offenses—many of them, too, might have been potential citizens who instead got arrested and deported for “living while undocumented.”
President Obama should order DHS to follow his priorities and do away with a a quota that has nothing to do with law enforcement effectiveness and everything to do with scoring political points and destroying families who are on the verge of becoming fully-recognized under law.