Last September, the garrisons in the federal immigration agency were put on a hypercaffeinated mission to get their deportation numbers up. They were so intent on appearing tough on immigrants, they cut corners and changed their accounting practices, recording in their annual deportation figure thousands of immigrants who had actually been deported the previous year or were expelled through alternative means.
According to the Washington Post, in an article by Andrew Becker of the Center for Investigative Reporting, ICE officials were instructed toward the end of fiscal year 2010 to find creative ways of ensuring that the year’s deportation tally met that of the previous year: a record 390,000. The article shows that ICE in fact set internal quotas for deportation, something about which the agency has previously equivocated. And it details a set of practices that reflect an agency more committed to political poker than administering a sane immigration policy.
The Obama administration has repeatedly boasted about its record deportation numbers. Just last week, while arguing in favor of the DREAM Act, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano told reporters, "We have in the last two years led a historic move to remove a record number of illegal aliens of criminal offenses." She went on to say that the record setting number of deportations is the result of the government’s decision to uphold immigration law.
But the law and order claim is tarnished by the facts. Far from simply upholding the law, the immigration agency bent the rules in order to artificially drive up its reported deportation number by about 25,000.
Among other things, the agency instructed agents to offer more detained immigrants the option of what’s called "voluntary removal" rather than wait for a deportation order from overwhelmed immigration courts. According to the Washington Post, the practice did not succeed in driving the deportation numbers up, but it may have resulted in extended periods of detention for immigrants facing deportation.
Earlier this year, ICE produced a conflict for itself when an official announced that the agency was well on its way to meeting its deportation quota; ICE had claimed previously it didn’t have quotas. ICE Secretary John Morton issued a 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 Post report, however, makes clear that the agency does in fact keep internal quotas and is willing to change its practices, even adjust counting mechanisms, to reach those quotas. The Obama administration has hoped by taking a tough-on-immigration stance it will better position itself for a broader immigration reform bill. That bill has not materialized, but the Post report reveals how far ICE has gone to bolster the administration’s hawkish narrative.