ICE Leads Border Raids That Obama Admin Promised to Stop

By Julianne Hing Apr 16, 2010

Yesterday, more than 800 law enforcement officials conducted the largest raid on border crossers on both sides of the American and Mexican border. The NY Times called it the largest immigrant smuggling raid in U.S. history intended to take down the industry of smugglers that have allowed thousands of people to come to the United States. ICE targeted shuttle vans that are run by private companies that provide cross-border transport for commuters and migrants alike. Indeed, yesterday’s raid ended in 50 arrests, but only 17 turned out to be entering the U.S. without papers–proof, if it was ever unclear before, that ICE relies on racial profiling to round up those who are suspected of entering the country without papers. John Morton, the director of ICE whose resignation many in immigrant rights circles have been calling for, said the raid was a long-planned campaign to root out the infrastructure of transport that migrants rely on. "We are taking out the whole industry and giving such a shock to individuals that they won’t recover as they have in the past,” Morton said to the NY Times. Yesterday’s raid is exactly the kind of immigration enforcement tactic that Janet Napolitano, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, was quick to distance herself from early in her tenure. After the Bellingham raids in Washington state in early 2009, Napolitano promptly ordered a review of the raid, and dispatched an anonymous staffer to tell the press: “She was not happy about it because it’s inconsistent with her position, and the president’s position on these matters." And candidate Barack Obama’s poetic words on inhumane immigration enforcement are hard to forget: "When communities are terrorized by ICE immigration raids, when nursing mothers are torn from their babies, when children come home from school to find their parents missing, when people are detained without access to legal counsel, when all that’s happening, the system just isn’t working, and we need to change it.” ICE has defended itself by saying it is not rounding up masses of immigrants, the agency is merely shifting enforcement to strengthen policing of the border and to target the industries and networks that provide transport for people. The raids exposed another gap between the Obama administration’s official political line and ICE, the enforcement body of the Department of Homeland Security, just weeks after an internal ICE memo was leaked that showed that the agency relied on deportation quotas to drive enforcement. ICE hoped to deport 400,000 people this year. The Obama administration had previously fiercely denied the existence of deportation quotas, but did not deny their existence after the memo’s release. Immigration advocates are concerned that even though some in the Obama administration have tried to resist the Bush-era mandates of "enforcement now, enforcement forever," these sorts of distinctions are useless, especially when the effect on communities is still so harsh. Indeed, a damning report released by the Obama administration last year showed that nearly 60 percent of the people caught up in immigration detention had no criminal record whatsoever, despite the standard line from the administration that it was going to focus on "dangerous, criminal elements" who were a threat to national security. "What makes it more difficult is that the president hasn’t taken a clear stance and clear leadership on this," said Fernando Garcia, the executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights. "Obama has to be the one to lead with a new approach on enforcement." Garcia called for comprehensive enforcement reform that would demand that local enforcement, ICE, and DHS have uniform and transparent tactics, be accountable, fiscally responsible, and not rely on racial profiling. So long as immigration enforcement continues to be wrapped up with other kinds of border security measures like drug trafficking and potential terrorist threats, Garcia warned, many more innocent people will get caught in the dragnet.