Potemkin ICE

By Jessica M. Vaughan on December 6, 2010
A story in today's Washington Post

reveals the lengths to which this administration will go to give people the false impression that they are serious about immigration law enforcement. Remember all that high-fiving and fist-pumping in October when ICE announced that it had broken all the records for removals? It will come as no shock to loyal readers of the CIS blog that, surprise, surprise, ICE had to do some creative accounting to get there.

It's worth reading the Post story and the accompanying documents. It was written by Andrew Becker of the Center for Investigative Reporting on the basis of internal ICE memos apparently leaked by supervisory and field enforcement agents.

The memos reveal that ICE first employed some creative statistical maneuvers in order to take credit for certain removals that actually took place in 2009 and some that resulted from Border Patrol arrests. But that wasn't enough, so in the last few weeks of September, they started a new version of immigration enforcement "line-flushing." ICE Enforcement and Removal (ERO) divisions in the field ordered agents to comb their dockets to identify illegal aliens who could be offered a deal called Voluntary Return (VR), rather than the more drawn-out process of being ordered removed by an immigration judge. Normally offered only to those illegal aliens who are arrested but not considered to be dangerous, VR allows the offender to promise to return home with a slap on the wrist and without further penalty. ICE agents prefer to have illegal aliens with criminal charges ordered removed, because then if the alien does return, he is subject to stiffer penalties, including time in prison.

Literally planeloads of illegal alien offenders accepted this deal. One field office said that they had so many takers, mainly offenders who had been charged with offenses such as DUI, Hit & Run, Domestic Violence and Assault, they had to charter an extra flight on ICE's deportation airline (JPATS) to accommodate them all.

It is impossible to tell how many illegal alien offenders benefitted, but the memos mention that ICE was about 17,000 removals short of its goal when the VR policy was implemented. In addition, ICE enforcement agents were ordered to hold nearly everyone they arrested in custody except the sick and pregnant or nursing women, to set high bonds, to discontinue electronic monitoring in lieu of detention, and other measures to make sure those illegal aliens who were found were actually removed. Of course, all these instructions were dropped soon into the new fiscal year, as headquarters no longer had any interest in such muscular efforts.

The documents also reveal that until a highly publicized incident in Virginia earlier this year, where an illegal alien drunk driver killed a nun in a traffic accident, all illegal alien DUI offenders with sentences of less than a year in jail were to be offered Voluntary Return. After the incident, the agency reverted back to a policy providing for formal removal. However, during the number-pumping exercise, agents were told to go back to fast-tracking the DUIs and those with misdemeanor assault charges.

Agents in the field have accused ICE headquarters of pursuing the short-term public relations bounce of high removal numbers at the expense of effective enforcement. As one agent told me, "They're cooking the books in every possible category to make it sound like they're tough on enforcement ... They basically gave all of these low-level miscreants a free pass not only to reapply for lawful admission if there's an amnesty, but also if they're caught re-entering the U.S. they can't be prosecuted because they were never formally removed."

Said another: "Very sad and discouraging as to enforcement being taken out of Immigration and Customs Enforcement ... more shell games at the expense of the American people and their safety."