Immigration and Customs Enforcement seems to be under pressure to deport people. There are conflicting reports about the truth of internal memos from the ICE leadership about quotas for deportation. As anyone who has worked in government knows, there are metrics to measure productivity – when I was in the Army, the resource management people were always having us fill out forms about our productivity, and we were the Army, which is not in the business of producing anything. ICE and the rest of the federal bureaucracy has more money to spend. This money needs to be accounted for. How else would the government measure the productivity of an agency whose mission is to deport people and has gotten more resources to do it but by numbers of people deported? One large section of ICE in San Diego is named “Detention and Removal.” Obviously, their job is not inventing a better coffee drink.
The issue is not that people are going to be deported but who and how. The Obama administration seemed intent to increase deportations of “criminal aliens” as opposed to those “merely” undocumented, but that dichotomy lacks the moral clarity in reality than appears on its face. Is deporting a permanent resident with a husband and four children, all citizens, for a twenty year old drug crime, or a decoratedVietnam veteran who shoplifted a few times morally superior to deporting a young man who crossed the border three years ago to paint houses or mow lawns? Tough call?
However, what is more pernicious is that ICE seems to have adopted the tactic of deporting people by denying them their rights. This observation is anecdotal – based on the calls coming to my office. I get calls all the time from family members telling me that their relative was arrested driving on the highway. (And more and more calls reflect that the arrests are made based on stops that ring of ethnic profiling and without any legal cause.) He has been in the United States for more than ten years and has citizen or permanent resident parents, spouse, and/or children. This makes him prima facially eligible for relief from deportation. Sometimes through something called Cancellation of Removal. Sometimes through adjustment of status. Sometimes through Family Unity. There is sometimes something the person can do to legalize their status, is the point. I tell the family that the relative will either be released by ICE and given a date to go to immigration court or will be detained and we can seek release from an immigration judge. A few hours later the family calls back and says the relative is in Mexico. The officers, the family informs me, told the relative he has no case. He can stay and fight but will be locked up for months or years. The wise course, they “advise” (incidentally, only lawyers are allowed to give legal advice), is to just “sign and go” to Mexico and work out the paperwork from there. The officers do not explain that you cannot get Cancellation of Removal or Family Unity from Mexico and that departing the United States often triggers bars to returning to the United States for years to come. Signing and going ends up being just as final a move as deportation.
Had the officers done the right thing – do the paperwork, make a custody determination, and give the alien papers to goto court and send him or her home or to the detention center – and let the alien decide with the input of a lawyer and family what to do – stay and fight the case or sign and go. The drawback is that then ICE does the paperwork, expends the manpower, but does not get the deportation number. If the alien stays and fights, the alien may not be finished with the fight for a couple of years or more, or “worse,” may never be deported at all because he or she will be allowed to stay here. This is the pernicious side of the push to deport: the denial of an alien’s right to seek proper advice and to fight his or her case and instead being coerced to leave and give up their best chance to be allowed to stay with their families in the United States. ICE, this is not the way to make your numbers. As Gomer Pyle would say, “Shame, shame, shame.” Posted April 7, 2010.