ICE fugitive unit inflating arrests with non-criminal immigrants

Bloated federal funding and political pressure pushed a U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement program to meet arrest quotas rather than focus on rounding up criminal fugitives and addressing national security threats, says a damning new report on the controversial agency.

The Immigration Justice Clinic of Yeshiva University’s law school and the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) based their conclusions of ICE’s National Fugitive Operations Program on internal agency memos:

The report, Collateral Damage: An Examination of ICE’s Fugitive Operations Program, found that 73 percent of the nearly 97,000 people arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) fugitive operations teams between the program’s inception in 2003 and early 2008 were unauthorized immigrants without criminal records.

Despite the National Fugitive Operations Program’s mandate to apprehend dangerous fugitives, arrests of fugitive aliens with criminal convictions have represented a steadily declining share of total arrests by the teams, accounting for just 9 percent of total arrests in 2007, down from 32 percent in 2003, according to the Department of Homeland Security’s own estimates.

The National Fugitive Operations Program has experienced greater growth than any other DHS immigration enforcement program — its budget rising from $9 million in 2003 to $218 million last year. In its first five years, the program has received more than $625 million. Yet ICE estimated last October that 557,762 fugitive aliens remain in the United States.

“The National Fugitive Operations Program has not delivered on its promise to find and remove dangerous fugitives. The evidence suggests that this is a case of ‘mission drift,’ in which the program has used public funding intended for one purpose for something entirely different: Apprehending non-violent non-fugitives — who constitute the easiest targets,” said MPI Non-resident Fellow Michael Wishnie, a Clinical Professor at Yale Law School.

The arrests of ordinary status violators have increased since ICE in 2006 increased the quota for each seven-person fugitive operations teams from 125 arrests annually to 1,000.

A Longmont Times-Call story seems to confirm concerns raised by the study.

A Jan. 31 news report claimed NFOP arrested 45 people in Colorado and Wyoming who failed to obey deportation orders or didn’t appear at their hearings. Twenty-eight of the people arrested had criminal records ranging from “convictions for car theft, sexual assault of a child and resisting arrest,” according to ICE spokesman Carl Rusnok.

I have no argument that violent criminals — native-born or immigrant — don’t belong on our streets, but this is where things get fuzzy in the story.

“ICE said most of the people arrested had deportation orders.” Most — but not all. Is that 9 out of 10 arrest or 51 percent or, perhaps, considerably less if one uses Bush Administration math?

Let’s review the purpose of NFOP, according to the Department of Homeland Security, which leads with a gratuitous reference to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks:

The primary mission of the National Fugitive Operations Program, a unit within ICE, Office of Detention and Removal Operations, Compliance Enforcement Division, is to identify, locate, arrest, or otherwise reduce the fugitive alien population in the United States. An ICE fugitive is defined as an alien who has failed to depart the United States pursuant to a final order of removal, deportation, or exclusion; or who has failed to report to a Detention and Removal Officer after receiving notice to do so.

Another section of the NFOP Web site posts a Most Wanted list of immigrants suspected of quite heinous crimes.

How is a car thief or someone ignoring a deportation order in the same league as a murder and sexual predator? Wouldn’t the law enforcement approaches and resources necessary to apprehend two classes of “fugitives” be vastly different? Shouldn’t the priority be to zero in on violent offenders that threaten public safety especially when detention facility space is already overcrowded?

According to the MPI report:

ICE has created tremendous bureaucratic incentives for fugitive operation teams to abandon focus on high-priority targets in favor of a shotgun approach of undisciplined home raids. ICE’s home raids have primarily led to the arrests of individuals who posed no risk to society and have come at a significant cost to immigrant families and to ICE’s own enforcement priorities,” said Cardozo law professor Peter L. Markowitz, who directs the Immigration Justice Clinic and represented plaintiffs in the FOIA lawsuit.

If that’s truly the purpose of this special ICE unit, then DHS has some ‘splaining to do on how 571 criminal fugitives were arrested in Colorado last year. Is there an onslaught of criminally violent people truly slipping past the borders, or is NFOP inflating its arrest records with non-criminal arrestees to justify massive tax-supported budget increases?

h/t New American Media

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