Despite written directives from DHS, a new analysis shows that undocumented immigrants with no criminal record are still being targeted for detention by federal agents.
“Only one quarter met the standards for being ICE’s top priority for deportation, or those with serious crime convictions. Compared with 2014, there was an 8% increase in requests to hold people without convictions,” writes Buzzfeed’s Adolfo Flores.
For years, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement had faced growing criticism for targeting undocumented immigrants with no criminal record and asking local police to hold them longer than they normally would for federal pick up.
In 2014, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced the end of that cooperative system in favor of the Priority Enforcement Program (PEP), which would instead focus on a narrower group of undocumented immigrants considered a priority for deportation, particularly anyone who has a criminal conviction.
Yet Johnson’s directives have had little affect on how ICE field offices seek the so-called detainers. The analysis by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University found that during the first two months of Fiscal Year 2016, ICE continued to target people who had no criminal record at a slightly rate than before the changes.
Only one quarter met the standards for being ICE’s top priority for deportation, or those with serious crime convictions. Compared with 2014, there was an 8% increase in requests to hold people without convictions.
Johnson also directed ICE to end requests for police detention and instead ask that local authorities notify the feds when a person of interest was going to be released from custody soon.
The change came after a number of federal court rulings that found holding people longer than usual for ICE violated the Fourth Amendment.
TRAC’s analysis found that four out of every five detainer requests asked local police to hold people longer than their normal period, rather than the new protocol where ICE is just notified.
Chris Newman, legal director for the National Day Labor Organizing Network, said a hallmark of the Obama administration’s so-called ‘felons not families’ deportation programs has been misrepresentations about the extent to which immigration authorities is fused with the criminal justice system.
“ICE was already a rogue law enforcement agency by almost any definition,” Newman said in a statement to BuzzFeed News. “Yet the president’s policy, and frankly his rhetoric, have emboldened ICE agents to mine the mass incarceration system to beef up deportation numbers.”
ICE didn’t immediately return to a request for comment on Tuesday’s report, but in the past, the agency has said that a recent review of undocumented immigrants in detention facilities found that 99.5% met their enforcement priorities.
Additionally, ICE said that data, such as past convictions, is often lacking when a detainer request is issued to local police. This could be due to unavailable information at the moment and the need to send a detainer in a short period of time.
Detainer requests are the first step, ICE said, followed by arrest and removal. The percentage of convictions at the time of an arrest or removal would be much higher compared to detainers.
In another disturbing trend, Esther Yu Hsi Lee highlights a lawsuit alleging that federal immigration agents used deceptive tactics in order to gain access into the homes of immigrants and detain them.
Additionally, despite DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson saying that agents would only target people who had failed to win their asylum cases during roundly-condemned immigration raids earlier this year, this just hasn’t been the case.
The U.S. government is withholding information about a series of immigration raids in January that led to the arrest and deportation proceedings of more than 100 Central American women and children seeking asylum in the country, according to a new complaint.
The complaint, filed by the civil rights group Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the law firm Alston & Bird, alleges that federal U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents used deceptive tactics to gain entry into immigrants’ homes and take them into custody.
These people were then sent to a family immigration detention center in Dilley, Texas.
In some cases, agents told immigrants that they were looking for a criminal suspect, showing a photo of an African American man and asking to look for him inside their homes. In other cases, according to the lawsuit, ICE agents weren’t upfront about what was going on and claimed “they were only taking the immigrants into custody for a short time to examine the women’s electronic ankle shackles,” which are used to monitor some women while they wait for their court hearings. The agents reportedly did not show copies of warrants — required to enter any home without valid consent — and told people to “be quiet” when they were asked to produce one.
The SPLC filed a complaint after the agency failed to release documents following a January 7 request, just days after the initial raids took place on January 2 and 3. The records sought by the SPLC would show how and why ICE pursued the immigrants who were taken in the raid.
“Until we can review the records, the possibility of justice for these immigrants will be out of reach,” David Gann, senior associate at Alston & Bird, the SPLC’s co-counsel, said in an emailed press release. “It is important for DHS and ICE to release their files on these raids.”
At the end of last year, the Obama administration authorized a series of raids under Operation Border Guardian targeting Central American mothers and children living in Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas. The raids were in response to a large increase of immigrants from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala showing up on the southern U.S. border saying that they needed to seek asylum from escaping gang violence. DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson said that immigration agents would only go after border crossers who came to the country after 2014 and have failed to win their asylum cases.
But that’s not exactly how it played out in practice. According to the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project, some of the people scooped in raids had bona fide asylum claims “but were deprived of a meaningful opportunity to present them at their hearings in immigration court,” according to a January press release. CARA successfully halted the deportation of four sets of Central American families who fell into this category.
What’s more, the complaint’s allegations of ICE’s deceptive tactics track with what other immigrants and advocates have told ThinkProgress over the past several months.
For instance, immigration agents told Rene, the brother of a recent Central American border crosser, that they needed to search his home for a “wanted man” before they detained his sister and children. And despite established guidelines to avoid detaining and arresting immigrants at sensitive locations like churches, hospitals, and schools, agents violated those policies at a church and school bus stops in January.
Over the past several years, as more Central American families and unaccompanied children have arrived at the southern U.S. border, the government has made it increasingly difficult for them to be released into the country, even when they have sponsors. Bail bonds are often set at impossibly high prices, making it hard for people to pay their way out of detention centers.
And both accompanied and unaccompanied children — who before 2014 were released to sponsors in the United States — have been continuously kept in detention facilities, likely in violation of a 1997 court case that bars children from being kept in restrictive settings.