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Did Border Patrol Agents Miss the Memo on the New Immigration Policy—or Are They Ignoring It?

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Woman in HandcuffsA lot of our attention has been focused on the practices of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agency — and rightly so. But lately, we’ve been hearing a lot more stories about the harsh tactics employed by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers. We were led to believe that the enforcement priorities of ICE and CBP would change in light of the new deportation policy announced last month by the Obama administration, but an article by Julian Aguilar at Texas Tribune raises more concerns about how the agency is complying with the new directive. The full article is a must read. Here’s an excerpt: 

Lara, originally from Delicias, Chihuahua, is five months pregnant and the mother of two U.S. citizen children. She is in the country illegally because she overstayed a visa. Her attorney says she’s the “poster child” for leniency under the June directive. 

Instead, Lara was detained and processed by immigration authorities in Anthony, N.M., last week after she admitted to having expired documents when local police and U.S. Border Patrol agents came to the door looking for her sister.

It means the “left hand isn’t aware of what the right hand is doing,” said Carlos Spector, Lara’s El Paso-based attorney. “I think it’s important to note that this [directive] has not reached the lowest levels of ICE … because [Border Patrol agents] are still picking up pregnant women.”

In the June directive, ICE Director John Morton told prosecutors to evaluate several factors when determining which illegal immigrants to place in deportation proceedings, part of a plan to concentrate ICE’s finite resources on removing the most dangerous criminal aliens. These factors included immigrants’ health, their children’s immigration status, how long they had been in the country, and whether or not they were “low profile” — the government’s term for nonviolent, nonessential deportees. That memo was followed last month by an announcement that the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees ICE and Customs and Border Protection, would review the cases of the 300,000 people currently in deportation proceedings to determine if any should be released and subsequently allowed to apply for work authorization.

Lara was released from detention, but not until she was hospitalized after becoming panic stricken and physically ill during her stay. She says an agent threatened to deport her to Ciudad Juárez, where drug cartel violence is widespread.

It’s difficult to see how Roxann Lara is a high priority for the Department of Homeland Security. Clearly, there’s much work to be done to educate the agents on the front line:

“The most critical part of this policy is going to be how they monitor it in the field,” [Director of the Migration Policy Institute at the NYU School of Law Muzaffar] Chishti said. “How are you going to notify people … and what is the accountability if an officer chooses not to exercise the discretion on the basis of the guidelines?”

Lara’s case indicates that, at least in certain Border Patrol sectors, the jury is still out. 

The jury is still out. We and other immigrant activists will keep watching ICE and CBP to see if they’re following the new policy.