Why Is the U.S. Deporting Assets While Ignoring Threats?

It is hard to argue that our immigration enforcement priorities make sense. Over the past several years, we have seen an explosion of raids, detention beds, boots at the border, and enforcement of every kind against immigrants in the country illegally. But what is the result? For the most part, we are arresting, jailing, and deporting immigrant family members who have committed no crimes beyond violating immigration regulations. These people are assets to our economy and communities, not threats to them.

Worse than ineffective or economically counterproductive, enforcement that is poorly targeted and wasteful sometimes does actual damage to public safety.

This was the theme of Executive Director Ali Noorani's speech in late January to the National War College. It was coauthored by the Forum's Senior Legal Advisor Brittney Nystrom as is available on the Forum's website:

"Indisputably, there are individuals who misuse America's immigration system for nefarious purposes. Measures to deport or exclude foreign nationals who pose a potential threat to our national security have a legitimate place in any immigration system and wise and deliberate use of immigration authority can increase the security of our country. However, this proper intention of separating the few individuals who wish to do us harm from the many who seek only safety or to work or reunite with their families has been badly distorted."

- Ali Noorani, "Assets or Enemies: Securing our Nation by Enforcing Immigration Laws," Speech to the National War College, January 27, 2009

The Washington Post and Baltimore Sun are reporting on ICE enforcement teams in Maryland. They were supposed to be going after serious criminal immigrants, but finding few, decided to pick up whoever was easiest to get.

Shortly before federal agents arrested 24 Latinos outside a Fells Point 7-Eleven in January 2007, the acting field office director of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Baltimore told a deputy "to bring more bodies in," according to an internal ICE report.

The roundup at the 7-Eleven occurred after the official told that deputy "to go back out to make more arrests, as the quantity of arrests that were made that morning was unacceptable," said the report. It appears to contradict previous statements by ICE officials that the agents were taking a drink break Jan. 23, 2007, when they happened to be approached by Latino laborers who thought they were contractors in need of workers.

--Scott Calvert, "Agents were urged to round up immigrants, report says," Baltimore Sun, February 19, 2009

Wednesday, the Pew Hispanic Center released a report on skyrocketing federal incarceration rates for Hispanic men, mostly due to simple immigration violations:

In 2007, Latinos accounted for 40% of all sentenced federal offenders - more than triple their share (13%) of the total U.S. adult population. The share of all sentenced offenders who were Latino in 2007 was up from 24% in 1991, according to an analysis of data from the United States Sentencing Commission (USSC) by the Pew Hispanic Center, a project of the Pew Research Center. Moreover, by 2007, immigration offenses represented nearly one-quarter (24%) of all federal convictions, up from just 7% in 1991. Among those sentenced for immigration offenses in 2007, 80% were Hispanic.

But it isn't Hispanic men that are changing; rather it is the number of folks being criminally prosecuted for simple immigration violations that is going up.

Among sentenced immigration offenders, most were convicted of unlawfully entering or remaining in the U.S. Fully 75% of Latino offenders sentenced for immigration crimes in 2007 were convicted of entering the U.S. unlawfully or residing in the country without authorization.

Also Wednesday, the University of North Carolina School of Law and the ACLU of North Carolina released a report on how local police in the state are implementing 287(g), a program to work with the Department of Homeland Security to enforce federal immigration law. In the name of immigration enforcement, the report found public safety may be jeopardized and that local authorities may be violating federal law in implementing the programs incompletely.

Law students reviewed the program and produced a 152-page report that says it encourages officers to target Hispanics for arrest and discourages immigrants from reporting crimes.

The report also says that in many cases local agencies are failing to comply with the terms of the agreements they made with the federal government.

For example, the agreements require agencies to have a complaint procedure for immigrants who feel they have been wrongly detained. But the researchers found no evidence of a complaint system in any of the counties they studied.

--(Raleigh, NC) News & Observer, "Study faults local immigration enforcement," February 18, 2009

We could add the Migration Policy Institute's report that ICE is increasingly going after non-criminal immigrants who are easy to catch, not criminal immigrants who are important to catch.

Ali Noorani's speech to the National War College makes the point that the more we are spending on dumb enforcement, the less we can spend on enforcement that would actually make us safer or which would lead to the deportation of serious criminals.

The real threat to our security comes if we cannot see the difference between threats and assets when it comes to our immigration system and the enforcement thereof. An immigration enforcement system based on accountability, transparency, and human rights is within our grasp. By leading our nation to a 21st century immigration system, President Obama can restore our reputation as a beacon of hope the world over, secure our borders, and protect our communities.

- Ali Noorani, "Assets or Enemies: Securing our Nation by Enforcing Immigration Laws," Speech to the National War College, January 27, 2009


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