Feds: Deportation A Crapshoot—U.S. Agents Lack Guidelines For Removing Illegals

Feds: Deportation a crapshoot
U.S. agents lack guidelines for removing illegals

By Fernando Quintero,
Rocky Mountain News
October 17, 2007

Federal immigration agents lack guidelines in choosing which illegal immigrants to deport, often taking sole caregivers or those with medical problems, a government report says.

Based on humanitarian concerns, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents have discretion to choose whether to pursue and deport immigrants with no criminal history. Illegal presence in the U.S. by itself is a civil violation, not criminal.

When Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents raided the Swift & Co. meat plant in Greeley last December, they took parents from young children, setting off an outcry from critics.

A Government Accountability Office report released Tuesday underscored those complaints about ICE breaking up families during work site raids and arresting illegal immigrants who were not their intended targets but happen to be present, called “collateral arrests.”

ICE officials said Tuesday that they had not read the 48-page report and would not comment.

“ICE has not taken steps to ensure that written guidance designed to promote the appropriate exercise of discretion during alien apprehension and removal is comprehensive and up to date and has not established time frames for updating guidance,” the report said.

“For example, field operational manuals have not been updated to provide information about the appropriate exercise of discretion in light of a recent expansion of ICE work site enforcement and fugitive operations, in which officers are more likely to encounter aliens with humanitarian issues or who are not targets of investigations,” it said.

A Rocky Mountain News series found last year that ICE officers have the ability to exercise discretion before deporting undocumented immigrants, while prioritizing those who pose a threat to national security or public safety.

Once an illegal immigrant is arrested, the agency has much more limited discretion in whether to drop deportation proceedings.

But the series, titled the “The Border Within,” found that criminals who are in the country illegally were slipping through the deportation net while those whose only violation was being in the country illegally were being swept up in ever increasing numbers.

“(ICE) does need guidelines, especially because we're heading toward a scary situation where we have local law enforcement cooperating with ICE. Who's getting swept up in the net? Women, children, babies. That is not an exercise of discretion,” said Kim Baker Medina, a Fort Collins immigration attorney.

Laurel Herndon, a Boulder immigration attorney, said there was a “huge problem” with inconsistencies in the use of discretion.

“In one jurisdiction, you can get tagged for traffic offenses. In another, you're left alone,” she said.

But Jeff Joseph, previous chair of the Colorado Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said coming up with guidelines for the use of discretion is tricky. “How do you come up with guidelines for using discretion?” he said.

Joseph said it was the inconsistent use of discretion that posed a problem.

“In Denver, we've had extremely positive experiences with ICE using discretion in cases where there was family separation or health issues,” he said.

Points of concern

The Government Accountability Office report found that Immigration and Customs Enforcement:

Has not taken steps to ensure comprehensive and up-to-date guidance for choosing illegal immigrants to deport.

Has not established time frames for updating such guidance.

Does not have a way to ensure that ICE officers are informed of the most recent interpretations of immigration law.

Lacks controls to monitor performance across 75 field offices responsible for making arrests and deportation decisions.

quinterof@RockyMountainNews.com or 303-954-5250


PDF: Immigration enforcement
Special report: The border within
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