ICE HQ to Field: ISO More Removable Aliens

By Jessica M. Vaughan on March 30, 2010

Advocates for illegal aliens must have been horrified to learn over the weekend via a Washington Post article that ICE's top manager for Detention and Removal Operations, James M. Chaparro, has directed ICE Field Offices to pick up the pace in removing not just aliens convicted of serious crimes, but – gasp! – other illegal aliens found in jails or who ignored previous orders to get out and stay out. The Post report also included copies of DRO performance evaluation guidelines that – get this – establish numerical productivity benchmarks to help supervisors assess how effective their agents are. ICE chief John Morton and other public affairs staff quickly issued statements suggesting that Chaparro had gone rogue, but the policy implications are clear: the administration's axe-murderers-only approach to immigration law enforcement is just not going to cut it. The agency could not credibly claim to have implemented a "smarter and better" immigration enforcement regime that provides a foundation for "comprehensive immigration reform" if the 2010 removal numbers were to drop by 25 percent, as would have been the case under current policies, which try to limit enforcement to illegal aliens with serious criminal convictions.

Chaparro's memo, reproduced here, reports on the number of criminal and non-criminal removals achieved so far this fiscal year (56,853 and 60,397 respectively). It states that DRO is on track to achieve this year's goal for criminal removals (150,000) but not non-criminal removals (250,000). For an explanation of why non-criminal removals are necessary for immigration law enforcement to work, see Attrition Through Enforcement.

The memo asks DRO Field Offices to take a few modest but sensible steps to increase the number of removals:

1. Make full use of funded detention space. It is well established that few aliens who are ordered to depart actually will do so unless they are detained (See Mark Krikorian's congressional testimony on the subject). It is reassuring, to say the least, that the field offices are being encouraged to actually use the resources for detention that they were given by Congress.

2. Step up efforts to identify removable aliens who are now in jail or prison and whose release is imminent. Seems like a no-brainer.

3. Redouble efforts to utilize the Rapid Repat program, which targets non-violent offenders for early release and removal. For reasons I have never understood, many advocates for illegal aliens dislike this program and try to discourage state correctional systems from signing up.

4. Increase the number of fugitives who are arrested and removed, even if they do not have serious criminal convictions. These are aliens who have had their day in immigration court and lost. Those who re-enter after prior removal (a felony) should also be targeted. What's the big deal?

5. Make use of the Mexican Interior Repatriation Program, which removes Mexicans deep into Mexico instead of dropping them in the border area. If I were being deported, the last place I'd want to land is on the killing streets of Ciudad Juarez or Nuevo Laredo.

It is no surprise that the usual suspects who take offense at immigration law enforcement are appalled by these orders. It will be a surprise if the administration is able to convince anyone that becoming more efficient at removing criminal and incarcerated aliens is some kind of game-changing justification for amnesty and immigration increases.

John Morton, in particular, is walking a tightrope. So far he gives the impression that he wants to run an effective 21st century law enforcement agency; but when ICE does even just a little of what it is supposed to do, certain constituencies with supporters in the DHS front office and the White House start to squeal.

The Post report also included copies of a leaked memo that describes how DRO supervisors are to measure the performance of the enforcement agents who arrest removable aliens. The article suggests that the articulation of numerical targets is a troubling betrayal of Obama administration promises to do away with quotas for arrests and removals. While it is true that numerical quotas sometimes can result in distorted incentives or compromised quality, production goals are a fact of life in government work, whether for visa officers, patent and trademark lawyers, or VA benefits clerks. They are an objective tool for measuring productivity and help ensure fairness in the employee review process (granted, they should not be the only tool). Advocates who insist on trying to make an issue of this practice are going to elicit nothing but a big yawn from members of the public, who pay the salaries of these hard-working public servants, and who want to make sure that those who work hardest get recognized for it.