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Immigration and Customs Enforcement: $218 Million in Misplaced Priorities

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prisonThis weekend, a New York Times Editorial entitled, “Enforcement Gone Bad,” drew a disturbing conclusion from the Pew Hispanic Center’s latest report on national incarceration rates:

Since the early 1990s, you could write the federal government’s immigration strategy on a cardboard sign: Deport Them All. […] A report last week from the Pew Hispanic Center laid bare some striking results of that campaign. It found that Latinos now make up 40 percent of those sentenced in federal courts, even though they are only about 13 percent of the adult population. They accounted for one-third of federal prison inmates in 2007.

Of this huge spike in Hispanics convicted in federal courts, more than 81% were tried only for the offense of being in this country without documents. In fact this is not a criminal offense, but it does have grave implications, as the Editors argue:

The country is filling the federal courts and prisons with nonviolent offenders. It is diverting immense law-enforcement resources from pursuing serious criminals — violent thugs, financial scammers — to an immense, self-defeating campaign to hunt down … workers.

Misplaced priorities don’t come cheap.

Murderers and corporate criminals get off scot-free while immigrant workers are rounded up in large-scale raids, separated from husbands and daughters, sentenced to jail, deprived of basic human rights while incarcerated, and hopelessly separated from American-citizen children and spouses through the final act of deportation.

Even as the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agency’s budget spiked to $218 million last year (up from $9 million in 2003), report after report on horrendous ICE detention conditions continued to surface as people died and jails were forced to close.

The piece continues:

According to the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute, of the 72,000 people arrested through last February, 73 percent had no criminal record. Border Patrol agents in California and Maryland, meanwhile, tell of pressure to arrest workers at day-labor corners and convenience stores to meet quotas.

Check out this video of one such incident, where ICE agents rounded up Latino men at a 7-Eleven Convenience Store:


Our country should not be hunting down and incarcerating immigrant men and women buying coffee at 7-Eleven—turning them into scapegoat criminals – while real criminals roam free and taxpayers foot the bill.

It’s time, in the Editors’ words:

…to clear out backlogs in legal immigration, to rescue families from limbo, to throw sunlight on the shadow economy, to deter unlawful hiring, to replace chaos with lawfulness and order. All those priorities have languished in the deportation era.

Let’s reallocate the $218 million currently spent jailing workers, splitting apart families, and trampling human rights.  Now is the time for a new administration to move quickly to turn the tide of the costly misplaced priorities of the last.