US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Time for ICE to clean up the deportation mess

By Father Tom Joyce, CMF | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

The pressure is building on the Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) to clean up its act in the case of detention and deportation.

As I wrote in a previous blog post, there are some horrendous examples of injustice to detained immigrants--both undocumented and lawfully here--in the custody of ICE. Not only have those held for minor infractions been deported, but ICE has not hesitated to hold indefinitely those the courts had determined mentally incompetent.

The problem arouse out of 1996 changes in immigration law. Congress, in its war on drugs, wanted to speed the removal of "serious criminals," but in reality it turned misdemeanors--for DUI and other traffic violations, domestic squabbles, possession of marijuana joint, and the like--into major felonies. Apparently, ICE agents were also expected to meet a quota of 400,000 deportations this year.

Soon after I wrote about these abuses, the New York Times published a report that 30 Haitians fleeing the chaos in Port au Prince after the earthquake were being held in a detention center in Miami. They had entered the country without visas. The irony is that they were invited on to planes by Marines. One individual thought he had a job escorting the wheelchair bound on to planes, only to have the door close on him. Next thing he was in Miami where immigration officials sent him to the detention center. Many of those detained had relatives who would have welcomed and cared for them. Wisely, they got lawyers. But ICE was up to its old tricks of moving some of these detainees far from family and lawyers.

Publication of the quota memo and the Times' front page article has had some immediate impact. The Haitians detained in Miami were released the next day (see New York Times). Homeland Security repudiated the quota memo, though it has not respond to appeals to fire James M. Chaparro who wrote it. Then the Supreme Court ruled in an criminal case from Kentucky that an immigrant must be advised by counsel that a conviction, even in the case of admitting guilt to gain leniency, can lead to deportation (see another New York Times article).

ICE's inspector general has joined immigrant advocates in criticizing ICE's conduct in the use of 287(g), a section of the 1996 immigration revisions that authorized the use of local law agencies to do enforcement as well. This was all Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County need to terrorize the Hispanic population of Phoenix.

The inspector general published a report faulting the agency on the implementation of the program. He found it sloppily administered, without proper supervision, and lacking good training of local police (see New York Times).

ICE had already made some movements to tighter up the program. They took Sherriff Joe' street privileges away from him, but it maintains the scrutiny of inmates in local jails for immigration status. The original intent of the 1996 law was to assist in going after gang-bangers and drug smugglers. The jail checks have turned up pretty much minor offenders.

Finally, the most anguishing aspect of our deportation policies is the separation of parents from their children--often U.S.-born citizens. The variation on this tragedy are many: Both parents are deported and children stay here in the custody of relatives or friends; One parent is deported and the other is left to care for the children; children are deported with parents.

The law schools of the University of California at Berkley and Davis report that 88,000 such parents of U.S. citizens have been deported over the last decade, often for minor offenses (see Los Angeles Times). This only underscore the cruelty of ICE's arbitrary implementation of provisions meant for harden criminals and the need to clean up its act.