WTF, ICE? A Week’s Worth of Troubling Immigration Revelations

Immigration reform is moving ahead, sort of. But that hasn't stopped federal immigration enforcers and those who profit off of it from steamrolling everything around.

By Seth Freed Wessler Feb 22, 2013

Immigration reform lurched awkwardly forward, and then backward, and then forward in Washington this week after the White House [accidentally leaked]( a version of its immigration plan on Saturday and Sen. Marco Rubio hollered in true partisan form that the proposal, though remarkably similar to his own, would be "[dead on arrival](" Then, yesterday, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, the Republican who runs the all-important House Judiciary Committee, [said]( he won’t support a reform bill if it includes eventual citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Democrats have drawn the line in the sand on the need for a path to citizenship, and Goodlatte’s decision to position himself on the other side of that line could spell the death of reform. This sort of back and forth is likely to continue until one side budges or reform deliberations fall flat. But while Washington plays politics with people’s lives, the federal immigration enforcement apparatus appears to have declared war. This week saw a rush of news about the improprieties of federal immigration authorities, the true nature of immigration enforcement and what those who profit from deportation are thinking and doing. Here’s a rundown of the five most ridiculous, enraging, hypocritical things we learned about immigration enforcement in the last week. **1. ICE Officials Tell Agents to Use DMV Records and Traffic Safety Stops to Deport Immigrants** Since President Obama took office in 2008, his administration has bragged about its targeted immigration enforcement policy. Supposedly, Immigration and Customs Enforcement prioritizes what it considers to be the worst of the worst, such as rapists, drug dealers and "repeat immigration offenders" who just won’t respect the law. But last week, ICE’s claims took a serious blow when [USA Today]( revealed that precisely the opposite is true. Emails obtained by the ACLU revealed ICE officials instructed field agents to target immigrants with low-level criminal charges by trolling state DMV records and more. From [USA Today]( > Among those new tactics — detailed in interviews and internal e-mails — were trolling state driver’s license records for information about foreign-born applicants, dispatching U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to traffic safety checkpoints conducted by police departments, and processing more illegal immigrants who had been booked into jails for low-level offenses. Records show ICE officials in Washington approved some of those steps. **2. The Immigration Detention Industry a) Expects to Profit Despite Immigration Reform, b) Is Hiring for Success, c) and Is Buying Football Stadiums** As I [reported]( late last week, the CEO of the country’s largest private prison company reassured investors that immigration reform wouldn’t interrupt their cash flow. "There’s always going to be a demand for beds," said Corrections Corporation of America’s Damon Hininger during an investor call. "[ICE’s] profile of detainees in those beds may change over time to where they focus more on what they call ‘criminal aliens’ versus ‘non-criminal aliens.’" Another way private prison companies ensure they keep getting detainees is by hiring people once responsible for facilitating that flow. David Venturella, an ICE official who crafted some of the emails urging agents to troll DMV records for immigrants with petty offenses (see #1) [left the agency in July for a new job at GEO Group](, the second largest private prison company in the United States. Well timed, GEO, well timed. And just in case policy and patronage isn’t enough, Venturella’s new employer is giving away cash in exchange for some shine. On Tuesday [news broke]( that Florida Atlantic University’s football team will soon throw the old pig skin in the newly christened GEO Group Stadium. The 30,000-seater will be renamed in exchange for a $6 million donation from the GOE’s charitable foundation. **3. ICE Targets People Without Criminal Convictions for Detention:** A batch of data released on Wednesday by the [Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse]( (TRAC) once again confirmed that the feds go after undocumented immigrants with no criminal convictions. Between 2008 and the beginning of 2012, only 22 percent of people the federal government detained were convicted of any crime at all. And just 8.6 percent were found guilty of a so-called "level 1" crime. The report goes on to note that because of how ICE classifies offenses, "it appears likely that far fewer than even this small proportion of 8.6 percent actually would meet the more objective standards of having been convicted of crimes that pose a serious threat to national security or public safety." **4. ICE Also Detains Hundreds of US Citizens and Thousands of Green-Card Holders Without Convictions** ICE asked local, state and federal jails to hold over 800 United States citizens, according to the TRAC data. Obviously it’s not legal for ICE to detain US citizens, but it happens anyway. Sometimes these people get deported. Four years ago [Jaqueline Stevens]( reported that in its rush to meet deportation quotas, ICE swept up citizens. The TRAC data also reveal that ICE placed immigration holds on 20,000 legal permanent residents, or green card holders, who had never been convicted of a crime. [Permanent residents can be detained and deported]( if they break the law, and tens of thousands are cast out each year. But green cards are supposed to protect people from facing immigration penalties if they stay out of trouble. ICE got confused about this rule about 20,000 times. **5. ICE Trained County Prosecutors to Help Deport People** Prospecutors with the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office–the same place where Joe Arpaio’s still [running his own immigration raid]( brigade–received ICE training last year on how to prosecute to ensure deportation. The [Phoenix New Times reported]( ICE’s assistant chief legal counsel delivered a slide show at a brown bag lunch that essentially outlined for prosecutors how to charge a defendant so their conviction will be a fast track to deportation. Federal laws include a long list of convictions that lead directly to deportation for non-citizens. If you’re convicted of one of these crimes there’s no defense; you just get deported. But in many cases, prosecutors pick and choose from a laundry list of charges when considering a single crime and only some of those charges lead to mandatory deportation. The ICE presentation enumerates the difference and even provides the attorneys with tips on "Defense Counsel Strategies." How’s that for efficiency?