Thursday, February 12, 2009

Bush Immigration officials deluded Congress

Those of you who have watched the chaos that followed the creation of the Department of Homeland Security will probably not be surprised to read this. The successor agency to the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) lied to Congress to increase its budget. It said it was going to deport as many as 500,000 potential terrorists and "declared" American enemies, then instead focused on deporting illegal immigrants from Latin American countries, thereby shooting the American economy in the foot. George Carlin would be proud that at least the name change they underwent signaled their ruthless intentions, no longer would they be an Immigration Service. No, no, no, now they were Immigration Enforcement. Quite forthright of them. If only they could have been equally honest with Congress and the American people.

Operation Return to Sender. That's one of the flashy, catchy names given to series after series of raids on homes around the country that were billed as carefully planned hunts for dangerous immigrant criminal fugitives, but instead targeted ordinary laborers.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement operations such as these raked bigger increases in money and staff from Congress than any other program in the department.

However, starting in 2006 the operations weren't just focused on the criminal element, rather the program increasingly went after softer targets. The vast majority of those arrested had no criminal record, and in fact most of them had no deportation orders.

ICE directives put in place in 2006, absent Congressional review, eliminated the original 75% quota of criminal fugitives required. In the next year, the percentage of immigrants with criminal records dropped to 9 percent of those arrested, and non-fugitives picked up by chance — without a deportation order — rose to 40 percent. Many were sent to detention centers far from their homes, and subsequently deported.

Peter L. Markowitz, who teaches immigration law at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, said in the New York Times last week, "It looks like what happened here is that the law enforcement strategy was hijacked by the political agenda of the administration."

The New York Times reports that, "Congressional financing for the fugitive operations program rose to $218 million in the 2008 fiscal year, from $9 million in 2003... analyzing more than five years of arrest data supplied to the [Migration Policy] institute last year by Julie Myers, who was then chief of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the report found that over all, as the program spent a total of $625 million, nearly three-quarters of the 96,000 people it apprehended had no criminal convictions. "

Read more here in the NY Times.

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