Controversial Memo On Immigration Detention Quotas Raises Doubts About ICE Leadership

March 30, 2010 12:00 am

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After Meeting With ICE Officials, ACLU Calls For Transparency, Due Process And Detention Reform

March 30, 2010

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WASHINGTON – In response to reports of a controversial Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) memo advocating for immigration detention quotas, the American Civil Liberties Union today called on leaders in Congress and in ICE to establish transparent immigration enforcement and detention policies that respect the rule of law and constitutional values.

The memo, written by the director of ICE’s Detention and Removal Operations (DRO) and disclosed by the Washington Post, directed DRO officers nationwide to boost deportation numbers, make maximum use of detention and detain more people suspected only of unauthorized status. These enforcement priorities are in direct contradiction with those set forth by Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano and ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton who have both repeatedly testified, for much of the past year, that ICE’s priority is the deportation of dangerous criminal offenders.

“It is alarming that a high-level ICE director is instructing field agents around the country to enforce policies that are completely out of sync with the policy goals set at the highest levels of ICE and Homeland Security,” said Laura Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “It has become clear that ICE’s leadership has failed to control or direct the daily enforcement operations of ICE agents nationwide. This latest disclosure raises yet more doubts about who is really in charge at ICE and whether DHS has the capacity to execute its immigration enforcement priorities including detention reform – a top priority identified by Assistant Secretary Morton.”

The ACLU and select immigration groups met Monday with ICE Assistant Secretary Morton and his senior staff to discuss the reported quota policy and DRO priorities. At the meeting, James M. Chaparro, the DRO director who wrote the memo, which was apparently not cleared by the Assistant Secretary, apologized for his “tremendous error” stating that he was motivated to boost the ICE detention population in order to meet a mandate of 33,400 detainees per day. Assistant Secretary Morton denied the use of quotas, stated his commitment to work together in a “spirit of candor and transparency” and asked to be “judged on the record, not on rumors.”

While Assistant Secretary Morton, at Monday’s meeting, denied the use of individual employee quotas, he did discuss ICE’s overall goal of deporting at least 400,000 people this fiscal year. When asked how this goal was set, he explained how ICE had deported 387,000 individuals last fiscal year and needed to best this number, given this year’s increased appropriations.

“This is unsound government policy and an imprudent use of American taxpayers’ money that can very easily lead to civil liberties abuses,” said Joanne Lin, ACLU Legislative Counsel, who attended the meeting. “Immigration enforcement practices should be tied to the needs and demands of America, not driven by arbitrary numerical goals set by ICE. The preoccupation with reaching the number 400,000 has placed intense pressure on all corners of ICE to step up immigration enforcement operations. The ACLU is very concerned that ICE agents, in the name of meeting specific numerical goals, will feel pressured to cut corners and improperly target people who look ‘foreign’ for stops and interrogations.”

The latest disclosures point to the need to curb ICE’s continued unchecked enforcement powers and the need to reform immigration detention policy.

“ICE should not be arresting people just to fill detention beds,” said Judy Rabinovitz, Deputy Director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project. “ICE detention should be limited to only those situations where it is necessary in order to ensure the appearance of the detainee at immigration court hearings or for final deportation, or where necessary to protect against serious danger. Every time someone is detained by ICE, it costs that person his liberty and costs American taxpayers untold sums. ICE enforcement operations and detention policies need to be reformed from the top down, to ensure that each case is based on an individualized determination, not by quotas or arbitrary numerical goals, and that no one is detained without a meaningful bond hearing to determine if such detention is necessary.”

“There are no clear laws governing ICE’s conduct, and ICE has repeatedly proven incapable of regulating itself,” said Lin. “Congress must enact the Protect Citizens from Unlawful Detention Act (S. 1549) which would establish due process protections to ensure that U.S. citizens and permanent residents who are swept up in immigration enforcement operations are afforded due process, and would require that all people arrested or detained by DHS be advised of their right to access immigration counsel and notified of the immigration charges against them.”

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