As the Administration is poised to reach the 2 million deportation mark, the question we all should be asking is not just why but how?
In its first five years, the Obama Administration has deported about twice as many people as the Bush Administration did in the same period – all while the number of immigration judges has remained virtually stagnant and border apprehensions are at an all-time low.
So, how’d they do it?
- Prioritizing speed instead of fairness
One myth of our immigration system is that everyone gets their day in court – the opportunity to at least be heard by a judge before they are deported. The reality is that this Administration has increasingly relied on methods, such as expedited removal and reinstatements of old decisions, which bypass a judicial hearing where a judge can consider U.S. ties and individual circumstances and also fail to offer basic protections like notice of right to counsel. In FY 2013, over 260,000 people were deported through expedited removals and reinstatements, nearly twice the number of people in 2005, and a full 70 percent of the total number of people deported that year.
- Using local police as a “force multiplier” and local budgets as slush funds
Over the last eight years, there has been a surge in the use of immigration detainers – where the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) asks local police to hold an immigrant already in their custody for forty-eight hours – partially on their own dime – to give the feds an opportunity to investigate, take him or her into custody, and place him or her into deportation proceedings. In 2007, U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE) issued about 80,000 detainers; by 2012 this number had jumped to 270,000.
This dramatic growth has been, in large part, a result of the controversial Secure Communities program, where individuals arrested by local police have their fingerprints run through Department of Homeland Security databases. If a person is a “match,” then ICE can issue a detainer. In 2008, Secure Communities was in its pilot stage; by 2013 nationwide rollout was complete – so, terrifyingly, ICE now has access to information about every single person in custody of local police, anywhere in the country.
And, it hasn’t come cheap. Prior to passing the TRUST Act, which limited local compliance with ICE detainers, California spent $65 million annually – enough to cover tuition for a year for 5,000 students at the University of California – to comply with ICE detainers, according to researchers. At the same time, we have seen U.S. citizens andGreen Card holders improperly detained, targeting of Latinos and immigrants by local police, and increased fear in communities, yet no indication that the Administration plans to curb Secure Communities.
- Deporting hundreds of thousands of people with no criminal history
Despite the Department of Homeland Security’s assertion that they focus on people who pose a threat to public safety, the numbers tell quite a different story. By ICE’s own account, almost 250,000, or over 65 percent, of people deported in FY 13 had no criminal history, or had only been convicted of minor misdemeanors such as driving without a license. To put it in perspective, that’s about 30 percent more people than live in my hometown of Fort Lauderdale.
The bottom line is that we shouldn’t be just concerned with how many people are being deported – we should also be troubled with how we are doing it. If we want a solution to the immigration system, an administrative overhaul of enforcement practices has to be part of the fix.
The ACLU’s proposed recommendations to DHS to address the record level deportations can be found here.