New AILA Report Says DHS Immigration Enforcement is Far “Off Target”

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

George Tzamaras / Jenny Werwa
202-507-7649 / 202-507-7628 /

WASHINGTON, DC -- The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) announces the release of Immigration Enforcement Off Target: Minor Offenses with Major Consequences, a report featuring 127 cases where the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) took enforcement action against harmless people who were picked up and referred by local police officers.

“DHS claims it’s targeting dangerous people, but AILA found otherwise,” said AILA President Eleanor Pelta. In nearly every case in AILA’s report, DHS acted on local police referrals and began deportation action against people with no criminal background who had been picked up for minor offenses—like loitering—or no offense at all. “These people are not the high priority, public safety threats this Administration says it’s targeting,” said Pelta. “DHS should not be wasting resources pursuing low priority cases.”

The Off Target report draws upon cases from 24 states and the District of Columbia. The vast majority of cases involve people who had lived in the U.S. for years, paid taxes, had families, and contributed to our communities. “The report confirms what DHS statistics already show—that the government is deporting tens of thousands of people referred by local law enforcement who pose no threat to our country or to our communities,” said Pelta.

“These cases are just the tip of the iceberg, but they uncover a terrible reality: Virtually any contact with local police—even for innocent behavior—can trigger deportation,” said Pelta. Law enforcement leaders have stated publicly that police are commonly viewed as immigration enforcers, spreading fear and forcing immigrants further into the shadows. “Victims and witnesses are more afraid to go to the police, crimes go unreported, and we are all less safe,” said Pelta.

“DHS has to implement far better systems that screen every local police referral before an immigration agent or officer takes action,” said Pelta. In recent years, DHS has rapidly put in place several programs, like Secure Communities and the Criminal Alien Program, to check the immigration status of people stopped or arrested for possible criminal violations. “DHS has gone too far in blurring the line between criminal law enforcement and civil immigration enforcement. By responding indiscriminately to local referrals, DHS is losing control of its priorities,” said Pelta.

“Just as troubling are cases that show racial profiling—people stopped for failing to signal a lane change, or falsely accused of committing a violation. In some cases, the police didn’t even bother with charges; they just called ICE from the roadside. DHS has repeatedly said that racial profiling has no place in immigration enforcement, yet its officers time and again took enforcement action against individuals referred by local police, no matter how suspicious the circumstances,” said Pelta.

“America deserves smart, targeted enforcement that doesn’t undermine community policing or undercut American values. AILA will continue to monitor actions by DHS and report on them. We will be watching closely. Right now, DHS is way off the mark,” said Pelta.


The American Immigration Lawyers Association is the national association of immigration lawyers established to promote justice, advocate for fair and reasonable immigration law and policy, advance the quality of immigration and nationality law and practice, and enhance the professional development of its members.

Cite as AILA Doc. No. 11081608.