THE PLANK FEBRUARY 5, 2009
Disturbing but unsurprising news on the immigration front: A report released yesterday by the Migration Policy Institute and covered in the New York Times shows that a high-profile Immigration and Customs Enforcement program meant to target dangerous fugitive immigrants ensnared mostly those with no criminal record. The program, which began in 2002 and has cost the government $625 million over the course of its existence, was established with the requirement that 75 percent of those arrested be criminals. But in 2006, the agency internally directed that arrest quotas be raised, eliminating the requirement. The result? "[N]early three-quarters of the 96,000 people it apprehended had no criminal convictions." The program became typified by raids like this one, which happened in New Haven in June 2007:
During the raid, lawyers at Yale's immigration law center said, agents who found no one home at an address specified in a deportation order simply knocked on other doors until one opened, pushed their way in, and arrested residents who acknowledged that they lacked legal status.
Of the 32 arrested in that raid, only one or two had criminal records. As Michael Wishnie, one of the authors of the report notes, the raids raise legal and moral questions. Other immigration reform experts agreed: "I think in 25 years we will look back on the period we went through with a great deal of shame and regret. And students looking back on this in a generation will say, 'How did this happen? How did a nation of immigrants turn its federal police force on immigrant communities in such an indiscriminate and terrorizing manner?'" said Frank Sharry, founder of reform group America's Voice, in an interview today.Last week, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano announced a department-wide directive aimed at analyzing a number of policies that come under the agency's purview, including the Fugitive Operations teams. The immigration reformers I spoke with were happy about the timing of the report and expected her to use that information to reestablish and enforce the quotas that were meant to ensure the program actually snagged criminals. Immigration reform isn't Congress's priority right now for a whole host of reasons that need no mention, but it is Napolitano's. And, given that DHS is already in shambles, it's doubtful that she's willing to tolerate such a flagrant example of waste as this program is in its current form.