James M. Chaparro, director of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Office of Detention and Removal Operations, apparently implemented his own plan to increase the number of deportations of undocumented immigrants, The Washington Post reported Saturday. This announcement was made in a Feb. 22 memo to field directors around the country after he explained the number of deportations this year will be about 20 percent behind last year’s numbers, “well under the Agency’s goal of 400,000 [deportations].”
From the Post:
Beyond stating ICE enforcement goals in unusually explicit terms, Chaparro laid out how the agency would pump up the numbers: by increasing detention space to hold more illegal immigrants while they await deportation proceedings; by sweeping prisons and jails to find more candidates for deportation and offering early release to those willing to go quickly; and, most controversially, with a “surge” in efforts to catch illegal immigrants whose only violation was lying on immigration or visa applications or reentering the United States after being deported.
That same day the Post revealed the memo, ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton released a statement saying that portions of Chaparro’s message did not reflect ICE’s policies and had been sent out without authorization. “We are strongly committed to carrying out our priorities to remove serious criminal offenders first,” Morton concluded, “and we definitively do not set quotas.”
Still, the memo hasn’t been overlooked as an isolated, individual action.
Democracy Now! today reported that the memo sets a quota for non-criminal deportations, even though the administration promised to focus on cases that actually pose threats.
The moves outlined in the memo differ from public pledges by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to focus enforcement on the most dangerous undocumented immigrants… Joan Friedland of the National Immigration Law Center criticized the ICE memo, saying quotas will encourage agents to target easy cases, not the ones who pose the greatest safety risk.
Pro-immigration reform activists have also taken notice, criticizing ICE and the Obama administration for their continuation of what they call inhumane immigration policies. From an article in yesterday’s Spanish-language newspaper La Opinión:
Participant of yesterday’s Los Angeles march for immigration reform, lawyer [Jessica] Domínguez criticized the memo’s plan, now that raids will focus on detaining and deporting any [non-criminal] undocumented immigrant.
“I know that the community will not give up, that they are hopeful, but we have to be careful because this memo is very specific in increasing the number of immigrants deportated even if the only violation is being in the country illegally,” she said.
For Juan José Gutiérrez, one of the organizers of yesterday’s march, it’s a betrayal by President Obama.
“He promised us there would be a reform for immigrants in the first year, and the only thing we’ve had is more raids and more deportations than in the worst year during the Bush administration,” he said. “The quotas that have been assigned to the immigration department are unjust, inhumane and they will betray the promise the president made to the people.”