In the fallout after this weekend’s WaPo article revealed that ICE enforcement policies included deportation quotas, a practice that ICE had previously denied, groups have rallied together to call for ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton’s firing.
The Fair Immigration Reform Movement, commonly known as FIRM, called on President Obama and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to take control of ICE and demand accountability from Morton.
“The reality is ICE has gone rogue, and it needs to be reined in with dramatic action,” said Deepak Bhargava, the executive director of the Center for Community Change, on a press conference call earlier this week. “The recent revelations in the Washington Post this weekend are only the latest sign that the agency charged with enforcing the nation’s immigration laws is systematically deceiving the president and the American public.”
It’s much more than a case of mixed messages; it’s more about misplaced political priorities, and the Obama administration wanting to be all things to all people. Immigration advocates have pointed out that Obama’s made repeated public statements that enforcement would be more focused and not needlessly terrorize communities. Napolitano won support early in her tenure as DHS Secretary for announcing an end to work site raids and more transparency in ICE dealings. The Obama administration promise was supposed to be deliver less wanton and unnecessary roundups of immigrants and more thoughtful enforcement of immigration policies against the “worst of the worst” immigrants who’d been convicted of dangerous crimes.
But the unprecedented numbers of folks who’ve been deported under Obama and Napolitano’s watch — nearly 400,000 in Obama’s first year alone — tells another story. Most of these people don’t fit the supposed target profile of immigrants who are a threat to American national security. The majority didn’t even have a criminal record.
“Agents are told to go after easy targets—non-criminal, undocumented workers—to boost their numbers and earn good performance ratings,” the immigration reform group America’s Voice said in a statement, revealing that the agency’s top priority remains to shuttle as many people out of the country as quickly as possible, no matter the pretext they try to hide behind.
According to Subhash Kateel, an organizer with the Miami-based Florida Immigrant Coalition that is part of FIRM, ICE is still primarily deporting people who have not been convicted of any crime. A projected 160,000 out of a total of 310,000 people will be deported in 2010.
Immigration advocacy groups also take issue with ICE’s loose interpretation of who a “criminal alien” is. While ICE has been claiming a departmental victory for increasing the numbers of so-called “criminal aliens” who are deported, the actual breakdown of the numbers tells another story.
According to stats released by ICE, only ten percent of the 13,000 people who were deported between October 2008 and September 2009 under the Secure Communities initiative were Level 1 offenders who’d been convicted of serious crimes like murder or drug trafficking. The vast majority, 86 percent, were Level 2 and 3 offenders who’d been convicted of low-level drug offenses, property crimes, and other petty offenses like being caught driving without a license.
ICE, by its own admission, is sweeping up hundreds of thousands of people in its dragnet whose only crime is being here in this country without papers. And for this transgression immigrants are being torn from their children and sisters and aunties and parents and grandchildren. This is why the news of the revival of the deportation quotas is so galling to immigration advocates. President Obama has said he wants enforcement to be humane and reasonable, but his administration’s ICE agency has forsaken any commitment to those ideals in the name of widespread and indiscriminate enforcement.
“You have to have some level of accountability when they’re not doing what they say they’re going to do,” said Kateel. “The more the John Morton’s have to be accountable to someone, it’s a lesson to the leadership of ICE that they can’t pretend that change is just saying the right things.”
We all know now the mandates that John Morton’s ICE is operating under, which begs the question: which way does President Obama want it? Unfortunately, all the sweet talk in the world can’t hide the fact that his immigration enforcement leaders are setting and carrying out policies that directly undermine the promises for just enforcement he made to Americans.