Quotas or Not, Deportation is a Wrecking Ball

By Seth Freed Wessler Mar 30, 2010

The NYTimes published another searing piece by Nina Bernstein yesterday about immigrant detention and deportation. The US is deporting mentally disabled people, some coming directly out of mental hospitals who, Bernstein writes, "are too mentally ill or mentally disabled to understand anything." The piece ends with a brutal account of a mentally disabled man deported to Mexico. After going missing, a man fitting his description was found in a morgue in Mexico. The deportations are a result of growing pressure on immigration judges to "meet government quotas" for deportation, writes Bernstein. As a result of these quotas, "mental incompetence is routinely ignored by immigration judges and deportation officers." The story comes just as an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was reprimanded on Monday for confirming the existence of such quotas. In a bout of messaging confusion, an ICE official announced over the weekend that the agency was well on its way to meeting its quota for deporting immigrants with criminal convictions. The problem for is ICE is that the agency has previously claimed that they don’t have quotas and ICE Secretary John Morton issued another statement soon after saying, “We are strongly committed to carrying out our priorities to remove serious criminal offenders first and we definitively do not set quotas." The confusion inside the ICE house though, is neither here nor there. That’s because the latest deportation numbers reported by ICE indicate an increased commitment to deporting people with interactions with the criminal justice system and whether this is the result of a quota system or not, the numbers are up and more families are getting torn apart. As Bernstein makes clear, many of these people are mentally disabled. The Washington Post reported this weekend that while the total number of deportations in the first quarter of the year are down from last year, the number of deportations of people with convictions are actually increasing, up by 40% from last year. The numbers mark an intensification of policies already engorged by the Bush administration to target immigrants who commit crimes. While the current administration is certainly continuing to deport undocumented immigrants without any criminal convictions, the increasing reliance on people with interactions with the criminal justice system to meet deportation goals suggests that Obama may well be more Bush-like than Bush himself when it comes to deportations. As I wrote a couple weeks ago, the trend results from a faulty and destructive Washington dichotomy between “good” immigrants and “bad” immigrants which, as the recent HBO documentary The Senators Bargain shows, does not actually help advocates win comprehensive immigration reform. It’s also terrorizing communities. The dichotomy’s failure is in large part a result of the fact that all immigrants are facing increased criminalization. While ICE claims to be focused on “dangerous criminals,” it’s not at all clear who they’re talking about. Michelle Fei, co-director of the Immigrant Defense Project in New York said, “ICE has never really defined who they mean by ‘serious criminal’ but we see it seems to include anyone who comes into contact with the criminal justice system.” This means many people deported for petty crimes or for convictions from 20 years ago. Others may have been incarcerated despite mental illness and then deported. Indeed the US prison population has a higher rate of mental illness than the general population. The result is that hundreds of thousands of people who’ve made their homes here have been exiled. Further, explains Fei, even if ICE really were to define and then deport just “serious criminals, these people have already been through the criminal justice system.” In other words, they’ve already served time in jail, in a system that, says Fei, “we call fair and just.” The deportation of people after they serve jail time raises concerns about due process as each and every one of the 150,000 people we’re likely to deport in the next year as a result of a conviction will be the victim of sanctioned double jeopardy, punished twice for the same crime. And, because of laws passed in 1996 that make deportation mandatory for anyone with a list of convictions, this is double jeopardy without due process. ICE can say what they want to say, truth is in the numbers and the stories of the more than 1000 people deported each day.