In a move aimed at stepping up deportations of illegal immigrants, U.S. officials last year approved new tactics for targeting convicted criminals, some of which were aimed at increasing the removal of people charged with minor offenses.
Among the methods used were sending Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to traffic checkpoints run by police departments, processing more undocumented immigrants who had been booked for low-level crimes, and searching state driver’s license records for information about foreign-born applicants, according to documents obtained by USA Today
The newspaper reported Friday that records show ICE officials in Washington approved some of those steps.
Although the Obama administration has advocated deporting convicted criminals as part of its immigration policy, it has maintained that it would prevent efforts to remove those undocumented immigrants who pose little safety risk to the public.
“If this is what ICE is currently doing, it’s very problematic,” Gregory Chen, the director of advocacy for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, told USA Today. He said these tactics contradict promises to focus on dangerous criminals and show that the agency tried to “increase its criminal alien numbers by pursuing people with minor offenses like traffic violations.”
The push reportedly came after senior ICE officials warned that criminal deportations had dropped from the year before.
“The only performance measure that will count this fiscal year is the criminal alien removal target,” wrote David Venturella, who then supervised the agency’s field offices, in an e-mail last April to agents in Atlanta.
The e-mails were first obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina under the Freedom of Information Act.
Venturella claimed, however, that the targets did not amount to quotas. In an interview with USA Today, Venturella said aides to ICE Director John Morton were worried that a drop in criminal deportations might be publicly attributed to the administration’s policy of dropping some low-priority removal cases. Focusing on convicted criminals was a “cornerstone” of the Obama administration’s immigration policy, he said, “and it would have raised a lot of eyebrows if those numbers had continued to go down.”
By the end of the fiscal year last September, ICE had deported 225,390 criminal immigrants, a record, USA Today noted, and well above the agency’s target of 210,000.
It’s not clear how many people were removed because of the new tactics or how widely they were implemented.
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