This week, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is lauding itself for deporting more than 3,100 convicted criminal aliens, immigration fugitives and immigration violators in a six day national “Cross Check.”
This is not the first time ICE has conducted an Operation Cross Check and touted its success. As I argued here many of the people deported in these operations are far from dangerous. A “criminal alien” is a person who is not a citizen of the United States and has a criminal conviction, which could be as minor as a traffic offense or public urination. An “immigration fugitive” is a person who has not shown up for immigration court, and an “immigration violator” is someone who has violated immigration law. In this most recent instance, Operation Cross Check involved the arrest of 2,834 people with prior criminal convictions. About 1357 of these people had been convicted of misdemeanors, and 1,477 of felonies. Thus, nearly half had fairly minor convictions, and 266 people had no criminal convictions at all.
Many of those arrested were illegal re-entrants. The penalty for illegal re-entry after a deportation order is up to 20 years in prison. People who have been deported are often well aware of the possibility of prison time if they re-enter. However, many choose to try to re-enter the United States anyway, because all of their family members are here, and they see prison in the United States as preferable to loneliness and isolation in their country of birth – which may no longer be their “home.” In 2010, 34 percent of all deportations were reinstatements of previous removal orders, and 98 percent of these reinstatements were for nationals of Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala.
Moreover, when we look at another report issued last month by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), it becomes clear that may of the people they are deporting are likely leaving family members behind in the United States. According to this report, DHS deported 46,486 parents of United States citizen children in the first six months of 2011 – meaning that likely 100,000 parents of US citizens were deported in 2011 alone. How many were left behind in Operation Cross Check?
Family separation becomes increasingly pertinent as the numbers of people ae being deported from the interior of the United States swells. You see, fewer people are crossing our southern border illegally, yet DHS has set itself a quota of 400,000 deportees a year. This means that ICE – as the interior enforcement arm of the DHS – has to increase its efforts inside the United States. Deporting people who are living and working in the United States, and who have spent years, if not decades, here, causes social havoc.
The Obama administration’s response to the immigration “problem” has been to try and improve detention standards and to focus enforcement efforts on criminal aliens. Both of these moves are misguided. The detention and deportation regime – what I call the immigration industrial complex – does not need to be modified. It has to be completely revamped.
We have reached a point where 17 percent of undocumented migrants have lived in the United States since the 1980s, 14 percent in the 1990s, and nearly 85 percent have lived here for a decade or more. A person who has lived in the United States for 20 or 30 years has set deep roots in this country. Deporting these long-term settlers is a serious matter and our immigration laws need to be revamped to account for our present circumstances.
The present media spectacle of rooting out purported gang members and dangerous immigrants is moving us farther from developing humane immigration reform and should not be celebrated.
Tanya Golash-Boza is the author of: Yo Soy Negro Blackness in Peru, Immigration Nation: Raids, Detentions and Deportations in Post-9/11 America, and Due Process Denied: Detentions and Deportations in the United States.