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New York Times Editorial Board Highlights Need For Reform And Accountability At ICE (And Over Director Saldaña)

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Today, following the racially charged arrest of two Honduran immigrants in New Orleans (and subsequent deportation of one, with the second pending), the New York Times editorial board issued a strong reproach of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) systemic shortcomings (starting with the leadership of ICE Director Sarah Saldaña), despite the promise of reform.

The piece, “Wrongly Profiled and Deported,” follows a stream of coverage highlighting the deplorable conditions of a family detention center in Pennsylvania, so bad, in fact, that the state threatened to remove the facility’s operating license.

“ICE Director Sarah Saldaña’s short tenure at DHS has grown increasingly troubled,” says Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice.  “Between the mismanagement of one of the most rogue enforcement agencies in the country and the inhumane conditions at detention centers nationwide, her short tenure has been defined largely defined by heavy-handed enforcement and a serious misunderstanding of the Obama Administration’s new deportation guidelines.  As the New York Times editorial board makes clear, Saldaña needs to shape up or ship out.”

The New York Times editorial, “Wrongly Profiled and Deported,” follows below.  It’s also available online here.

The Obama administration likes to say it is both strict and humane in enforcing immigration laws. For years, agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement have been instructed to focus on deporting serious criminals, not low-level offenders and others who pose no threat. President Obama and his homeland security secretary, Jeh Johnson, have eloquently defended such “prosecutorial discretion” as a wise use of law-enforcement resources.

But a deportation case from rural Louisiana makes a mockery of those policies and suggests that ICE is willing to work with corrupt police departments to further racial profiling, unjust detention and other civil-rights abuses.

The case arose in New Llano, a town of 2,500 near the Texas border, last May. Two Honduran men, Jose Adan Fugon-Cano and Gustavo Barahona-Sanchez, were picked up by New Llano police officers while waiting for work outside a motel. The officers demanded their papers. The men were charged with no crimes but were handed over to the Border Patrol and then to ICE, which detained them as unauthorized immigrants who had been deported before. As the men awaited deportation for more than 140 days, the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice, an advocacy organization, filed a civil-rights complaint on their behalf, citing the baseless arrests.

The Homeland Security Department’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties investigated. It found the complaint credible. An internal email from the head of the office, Megan Mack, to the director of ICE, Sarah Saldaña, could not have been clearer: “The men appear to have been arrested, transported and detained for an extended period of time, without any local law-enforcement interest in charging them with a crime, solely for an immigration status check,” Ms. Mack wrote. “It seems clear,” she added, that the arrest “was based on their ethnicity and the way they were awaiting pickup for a job.”

“It is imperative that the department, ICE and CBP” — Customs and Border Protection — “work to avoid becoming a conduit, or an incentive, for improper profiling by local law enforcement,” Ms. Mack wrote. “We would ask that you consider both releasing them from custody and seeking closure of their removal actions.”

Ms. Mack was ignored. Mr. Fugon-Cano was deported this month. Mr. Barahona-Sanchez was expected be deported imminently. Ms. Saldaña’s superiors at Homeland Security are aware of the miscarriage of justice, but apparently have done nothing to undo it.

The Louisiana case points to a fundamental flaw with the Obama “prosecutorial discretion” policy. When the federal government delegates immigration enforcement to the local police, it risks outsourcing discretion to those who have no interest in using it justly. Whenever the police break the law to harass people who fit the stereotypical image of unauthorized immigrants, it is appalling. But when top officials within the Department of Homeland Security tolerate such abuses, they grossly undermine Mr. Obama’s professed commitment to immigration justice.

Mr. Fugon-Cano and Mr. Barahona-Sanchez should be swiftly reunited with their families in the United States. ICE should cut all ties with law-enforcement agencies that engage in racial profiling. Ms. Saldaña should explain herself. Mr. Johnson needs to make clear to her that she cannot summarily ignore the findings of the civil rights office. If she is not willing to uphold the law and the president’s policies, and ensure a just resolution of the case of Mr. Fugon-Cano and Mr. Barahona-Sanchez, she should be replaced.