Touting the Record

by Victor Nieblas Pradis, AILA Secretary

Yesterday, the secretary of homeland security, Janet Napolitano and the director of ICE, John Morton proudly announced they had broken a record—in fiscal year 2010, the Obama Administration deported 392,000 immigrants.  That’s good news for those who claim Obama does not enforce the nation’s dysfunctional immigration laws.  But, statistics and numbers do not tell the entire story.

Everyone agrees that we need to protect the American public.  And the Administration has correctly made removing dangerous criminals a top priority.    Yet, only half of those removed—more than 195,000—were convicted criminals.  And there is no way to know whether they were priority cases—Terrorists and dangerous criminals—or simply folks who had been deported for some long ago youthful indiscretion. The rest of the deportees–197,000 people–had committed no crimes and were otherwise likely law abiding,  hard working folks.  The government’s big statistic leaves me wondering how many of them were mothers and fathers forced to leave American families.

ICE programs like Secure Communities and the Criminal Alien Program (CAP), aimed at detaining noncitizen criminals, might look good on paper but don’t necessarily stand up to close scrutiny.  Both programs have drawn criticism because they are susceptible to abuse.  Critics argue they lack safeguards against racial profiling or related abuses..  The Administration stated Wednesday that no racial profiling will occur because the Secure Communities program screens everybody who gets fingerprinted regardless of race.  Yet, this claim does not account for the fact that an individual’s immigration history can be checked regardless of whether he or she is ever charged with an offense.  The obvious danger is that an arrest may easily become a pretext for a quick check on a person’s immigration status creating a very real danger that people who look or sound “foreign”– including US citizens – will be subjected to racial profiling.

The CAP program has resulted in Latinos suffering increased rates of arrests for petty offenses.  A report on the CAP program discovered that implementation of the CAP program in Irving, Texas coincided with a spike in the arrests of Latinos for petty crimes.  See Trevor Gardner II and Aarti Kohli, The C.A.P. Effect: Racial Profiling in the ICE Criminal Alien Program (The Warren Institute on Race, Ethnicity and Diversity, Sept. 2009). The report concluded that there is compelling evidence that the CAP program “tacitly encourages local police to arrest Hispanics for petty offenses.”  The report also noted that ICE is not following the program’s congressional mandate to focus resources on the deportation of immigrants with serious criminal histories.

In Florida the most recent ICE data shows that in Broward and St. Lucie counties over 51 percent of Secure Communities deportations are of non-criminals.  All 67 Florida counties became party to Secure Communities as of June 2010.  See, ICE, Secure Communities: Setting the Record Straight.  In Suffolk County, Massachusetts, 54 percent of deportations are of non-criminals.  In Harris County, Texas, 1,880 of the roughly 8,000 illegal immigrants removed through the program were counted as aggravated felons, about 5,500 had convictions for lesser crimes and 620 had no criminal history.  See Susan Caroll, All Texas counties join ICE immigrant checks. Yet, the Harris County Texas Sheriff failed to mention this at yesterday’s press conference.  In Webb County, Texas, 53 percent of individuals deported pursuant to Secure Communities had no criminal record.  In Maricopa County, Arizona it was 54 percent.  In Pima County, Arizona, it was 51%.  See, ICE, Setting the Record Straight.   Yet, Wednesday’s announcement continues to boast that Secure Communities as a program that successfully targets serious criminal aliens. This is simply not the case.

The bottom line is that Secure Communities has created “insecure communities” where people live in fear and families have been separated due to minor driving violations.  Addressing this concern, the Administration stated in yesterday’s announcement, “unfortunately families do get separated in the immigration process.”  What about America’s commitment to “family values”?  Where is the humanity in this process? Numbers and statistics do not tell the whole story.

Some communities have requested to opt-out of the Secure Communities program to maintain their strong relationships with the community.  In a recent letter Secretary Napolitano assured Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren that a community not wishing to participate in the Secure Communities program could opt out. Yet, in Wednesday’s announcement Secretary Napolitano stated, “we do not view this as an opt-in, opt out program.”

Thus, while the higher deportation numbers are offered to underscore the Administration’s enforcement efforts, we need to ask whether, in the absence of a comprehensive fix to our dysfunctional immigration system, it is also smart enforcement.  Who has been deported? Are we removing undocumented youngsters whose only offense is to dream?  Are we deporting future soliders and scholars? Are we deporting mothers and fathers who support American families?  Are we forcibly separating mothers from small children?  Are we deporting the Nikki Diaz Santillan’s of our country who work tirelessly to make our businesses and families prosper while receiving no reward for their efforts?

If these are the people we are deporting, then there is nothing to tout about.

I fear that by the time we get around to reaching a solution countless American families will have been separated and destroyed.   I for one hope that the Administraion’s next announcement of record breaking immigration news will be that it has kept its promise to the American people to fix our badly broken immigration system.

Now that would be something to tout about.

by Victor Nieblas Pradis