U.S. to Promote 'Self-Deportation'
By MIRIAM JORDAN
July 31, 2008
The Department of Homeland Security has a new strategy to help deal with illegal immigration: self-deportation.
A government program called “Operation Scheduled Departure” will offer illegal immigrants an opportunity to voluntarily surrender to
The pilot program, christened “Operation Scheduled Departure,” will offer illegal immigrants — primarily those who have ignored or eluded final deportation orders — a window of opportunity to voluntarily surrender to U.S. authorities. Those who participate in the program can count on cooperation from the government to enable them to close out their affairs prior to leaving.
For the government, the program comes at a time when there is mounting pressure on immigration courts and detention centers, which have been jammed to the hilt by the Bush administration's immigration crackdown.
The government hopes to sell illegal immigrants on the idea of avoiding a long, painful battle with the U.S. immigration bureaucracy.
“This is a realistic opportunity… . We are excited and hopeful that this is going to be a successful operation,” said Jim Hayes, acting
director of detention and removal office at U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement.
The U.S. is home to more than 570,000 so-called fugitive aliens — immigrants who have received final orders to quit the country but haven't done so. An estimated 550,000 of them don't have a criminal record, and they are the targets of the pilot program, according to Mr. Hayes
The strategy, which was hatched over several months, is to be launched on Aug. 5 in five cities home to large undocumented- immigrant populations: Phoenix, Santa Ana, Calif., San Diego, Chicago and Charlotte, N.C. It will continue until Aug. 22. Depending on the response, the program could be expanded to other cities.
Eligible immigrants will have up to 90 days to organize their departure, which must then be physically verified by the government. “We work with them to schedule their departure,” said Mr. Hayes. In some instances, the government may assist with or pay for travel arrangements to the immigrant's country of origin, he added.
Over the weekend, Julie Myers, head of ICE, told Spanish-language television network Univision that the operation will allow illegal immigrants without criminal records to essentially “self-deport.” She said that the concept was developed in response to feedback from detained immigrants who say they would rather return to their countries of origin than languish in immigration-detention centers.
The U.S. is home to about 12 million illegal immigrants, the vast majority of them from Latin America. Despite the economic downturn,
however, it is unlikely that illegal immigrants will rush to accept the offer. Recent surveys have shown that despite rising unemployment among
Hispanic immigrants — they have been particularly hurt by the construction slowdown — most plan to remain in the U.S.
Since Congress failed to pass comprehensive immigration reform, the Bush Administration has boosted enforcement actions at the border and in the interior of the U.S. Illegal immigrants are being rounded up in raids almost daily. ICE fugitive operations now have 84 teams deployed to locate, arrest and remove individuals who had previously been ordered deported. That has contributed to a sharp increase in overall arrests.
But the government crackdown is crowding detention centers and clogging immigration courts, eliciting criticism from immigration advocates and human-rights organizations. The detained illegal- immigrant population stands at 31,000 nationwide, compared with 21,000 in 2003. In particular,
ICE has faced mounting criticism over fatalities among detained immigrants, although the agency says that proportionate to the number of apprehensions fatalities have dropped in recent years.
Mr. Hayes said the pilot program will be marketed heavily in Hispanic media, with an 800-number for information and questions. He said ICE was also counting on advocacy groups and faith-based organizations to spread the word.
Immigrant advocates were quick to lambaste the new policy. “Operation Scheduled Departure is an admission that immigration raids are ravaging communities and wasting taxpayer dollars,” said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum in Washington, who added that the administration is “resorting to the theater of the absurd,”
Joshua Hoyt, executive director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, called the effort “a piece of fantasy public
relations that doesn't understand that immigrants come here to work and want to stay here with their families.”
Mr. Hayes declined to say how many people ICE forecasts will take part in the program or how much money it could save the government. The government spends, on average, $85 a day to keep an illegal immigrant in detention.