ICE Seems To Be Going After the Wrong People

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano recently announced that in the 2010 fiscal year alone, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deported a record 392,000 individuals, of which 195,000 were convicted criminals.

Although these numbers seem impressive, a report by a Syracuse University-based research organization reveals a dangerous trend in immigration enforcement.

Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) found that between 2004 and 2009, immigration courts turned down one out of every four cases (25%) for removal filed by ICE. In the last three months of fiscal year 2010, the rejection rate went up to 31%, meaning that about one out of three cases was denied.

For the entire 2010 fiscal year, more than half of the time the court denied the deportation request. The spike in rejection rate is more evident in large cities, such as Los Angeles (63%), Oregon (63%), Miami (63%) and Philadelphia (55%). In New York City, the turndown rate for 2010 is a whopping 70%.

The research group filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act for more detailed information to explain the rise in denials, but ICE has refused to release it. The information sought pertained to ICE’s removal practices and programs, data which might explain why more and more judges are rejecting ICE’s requests for deportation.

There are several ways by which a request by ICE for a removal order may fail. First, the judge may “terminate” the court proceeding if the ICE fails to show that the government has any grounds to remove the individual. Second, the alien may have a legitimate right to remain in the country, because of asylum or some other relief under immigration laws. The court may also close the case for other reasons, which includes administrative closures.

The research group found that the rise in ICE’s failure rate in 2010 was due to “terminations” by the judge, meaning that in those cases the judge found no grounds for removal.

In March of this year, the Center for American Progress came up with estimated costs of deporting undocumented immigrants. If their estimates are used, the apprehension, detention and legal processing of each person will cost about $22,482. According to TRAC, ICE’s unsuccessful filings between 2006 and 2010 affected almost 250,000 individuals. Given these figures, it sure looks like ICE is wasting a lot of resources.

What about the cost to those who were wrongfully picked for removal? They bear their own personal and financial losses, with most of them being detained and separated from their families for years. TRAC found that it took courts an average of 424 days before they could rule that ICE had no grounds for removal, and 696 days to rule that an alien is entitled to asylum or other relief.

These findings tell us that ICE, in pursuing removal proceedings, does not focus on the merits of each case, but rather has resorted to a haphazard and indiscriminate deportation policy, perhaps under pressure to meet the administration’s 400,000-deportation goal. This practice drains the nation’s already scarce resources. Moreover, ICE’s misdirected efforts take away its ability to deport those who are truly deserving, and this ultimately affects the agency’s effectivity.

Finally, not only are ICE’s practices wasteful; they are also inherently unfair. While the government’s crackdown on criminals is laudable, it needs to improve its targeting not only to be efficient but also to afford some measure of fairness to this country’s immigrants.