Setting the Record Straight: NPR Corrects Mischaracterization of CIS Stance on ICE Operation

By Jessica M. Vaughan on January 7, 2016

On January 6, NPR's "Morning Edition" ran a story on the recent ICE operation to remove Central American adults and children who arrived illegally in the surge of 2014, who have failed in their request for legal status and been ordered removed in person by an immigration judge, but who have not departed. The story included comments from me that were over-edited and presented an incomplete and therefore misleading impression of my opinion on ICE's operation.

Here is a transcript of the story that ran. Reporter Hansi Wang introduces my quote accurately, saying that I support the raids, though with some reservations:

... Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson oversees US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. He said in a statement that all of the people ICE picked up in the recent raids have exhausted appropriate legal remedies. And that's why Jessica Vaughan supports the raids, though with some reservations. She is the director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, a group that advocates for more restrictive immigration policies. "It's appropriate for ICE to be going around and gathering up people and sending them home, but ICE shouldn't have to do that." Vaughan argues that relying on raids is one more sign of a broken immigration system. "They are expensive, they're potentially dangerous for ICE officers, and they're alarming to others in the community when they see these people being removed from their homes, or what has become their home, and sent back to their home country." Immigrant advocates offer another criticism of the raids, which is, they don't work. ...

The four-minute story goes on to present strong criticism of the raids, with comments from advocates for illegal aliens and from a deportee. It includes no other comment or explanation that is supportive of enforcing the law. The listener is left with the impression that even pro-enforcement experts such as myself do not support these operations. That is a false impression.

NPR edited my comments so that the listener hears that I have reservations about the raids, but is not able to hear why. I do lament that the raids – not because I think our immigration system is broken, but because I believe that the administration has terribly mishandled the border surge crisis, and that the raids would not be necessary if the new illegal arrivals had not been released into the country to begin with. It is the administration's "catch and release" policy that is at fault, not ICE's careful and professionally conducted removal operations.

Here is a transcript of my unedited remarks, which is taken from the digital recording of the interview done on my phone. The clip that NPR used is underlined, and the part that they deleted from that clip is in bold:

Audio of full interview

Yes, it's not a surprise at all that they are taking place. There have been discussions for some time about the need to do something about the Central American arrivals who have exhausted all of their options in immigration court but who remain here in defiance of the law, and if they do not leave on their own, then they are certainly subject to deportation. And, since we've seen the number of new arrivals spike very dramatically again in October and November, it's very clear that something needs to be done to try to deter people from coming, and to make sure that there is some integrity to the law, and that when people have had their day in immigration court, and have been told that they don't qualify to stay here, if they don't leave on their own, then they are subject to forcible removal, which is what ICE has had to resort to. Unfortunately, it's gotten to this point. And I think the fact that ICE is now in a position to enforce the law – and to deter people from coming, they've got to go around and pick people up in the community, that should tell people that the policy of allowing people to enter illegally and then be given a very generous form of due process where it takes more than a year before they have their hearing in immigration court, and they're ordered removed, very few of them are actually qualifying for legal status and then they aren't leaving on their own, so ICE has to go round them up and deport them, that I think illustrates that there are some problems with the way we are handling these cases from the get go – that we ought to be offering swifter due process and keeping people in the vicinity of the border, so it will be easy to take care of those majority of cases that are not qualifying to stay here.

So it's appropriate for ICE to be going around and gathering up people and sending them home, but ICE shouldn't have to do that; there's a better way to handle these cases from the beginning that would avoid the need for these kinds of operations. And the reason we want to avoid these kinds of operations, it's because [Here, NPR inserted a comment suggesting that I believe that the raids are a sign of a "broken immigration system," because...] they are expensive, they're potentially dangerous for ICE officers, and they're alarming to others in the community when they see these people being removed from their homes, or what has become their home, and sent back to their home country. It would be ideal if these operations were not necessary.


Well I think ICE has made clear that the only people who are being targeted so far are those people who have had a chance to make their case for asylum or for some other form of relief and they have not qualified for it and a judge has found that they are not eligible to stay, and those are the cases that ICE is targeting at this point in time. And so having legal representation is not necessarily going to change the fact that the vast majority of them simply aren't eligible for legal status.


We know from the Border Patrol interviews that have occurred that most of them are coming here to rejoin friends and family who have already been living here illegally, or are newly arrived, and we have a very high no-show rate in immigration court, so it's only a small percentage of them that are actually serious about trying to obtain asylum, and it's an even smaller percentage of these cases that are actually qualifying for asylum, so given the fact that so many of them aren't going to be successful in trying to get legal status here, that tells me that the administration needs to adjust the way they're handling these cases and deal with them more promptly, rather than continuing to let almost everybody who arrives be released and put into these long, drawn out immigration proceedings.


I don't think it's so much a lack of resources as a lack of desire to deal with these cases swiftly and firmly. What they're calling rocket dockets is, really the first hearing takes place pretty swiftly and then the judges are very often granting people continuances and extensions and every opportunity to take their time and make their case, and now we're talking about these cases of people who have not succeeded and still not left, so to me it doesn't make any sense to offer these people yet another chance before an immigration court and allow them to stay here even longer and getting their hopes up when ultimately they're not going to succeed. There are no provisions in the law to offer them legal status. I think it's really unfair to allow them to keep trying and to be given this extended period of time in the United States if they're not ultimately going to succeed. It just gets their hopes up only to be dashed later, and then the government has to expend considerable resources tracking them down, finding them, taking them into custody, holding them, and then flying them back to their home country, when there are different policy options that would be much more efficient, effective, less of a burden on the local communities and ultimately more fair to people who are trying to come here illegally by sending the message that if they don't have a basis to stay then they are going to be sent home quickly, and then fewer people will ultimately even make the attempt to come here illegally because they will get the message. Right now the policy is not sending that message; they are sending the message that if they make it to the United States they will be allowed to stay for a long period of time, and the chances are small that anything will happen to them, even if they are ordered removed.


Well, I don't think that people have been railroaded through these immigration proceedings at all. I think that they have been offered the most generous form of due process possible and the reality is that they simply don't qualify to stay. Particularly in this most recent operation that happened over the weekend, all of these people have had their day in court, they've had the opportunity to speak to a judge about the possibility of asylum or other forms of relief, and the judges have found that they simply do not qualify, and those people need to be removed. We can't ignore the fact that they've been ordered removed, and act like that's of no consequence. It's ICE's responsibility to then enforce those removal orders so that we can have some integrity to our immigration laws.


The one thing – there have been some reports describing these operations as mass deportations and large-scale round-ups. In fact these have been very limited operations targeting specific people who've been ordered removed, had their day in court, exhausted all their appeals and are now being sent back home because they didn't leave on their own. It's a drop in the bucket of the total number of people who've come here illegally and who ultimately are going to join the population that's living here illegally so I think it's important to keep these numbers in perspective. Over the weekend ICE arrested one hundred-some people; there were probably double that number who came in over the weekend in South Texas, so we're not making any real progress on this problem. For that to happen the policies of how we [handle] people when they appear at the border need to change so that ICE doesn't end up having to do these kinds of expensive and disconcerting operations.

NPR has since issued a correction after the transcript on its website.