In an internal memo recently made public, ICE director James M. Chaparro reminded ICE Field Office Directors and Deputy Field Office Directors around the country that they have goals they need to meet. The first goal is deporting 150,000 criminal aliens. The second is an overall goal of deporting 400,000 people.
It is not clear from where ICE derives these numbers. 400,000 is less than four percent of the estimated ten million plus undocumented migrants in the US. The goal clearly is not to remove all undocumented migrants. Instead, ICE must target certain kinds of deportees.
Within ICE, officials are congratulated for deporting “criminal aliens” and “fugitive aliens.” As ominous as those titles may sound, rest assured that contrary to ICE propaganda, they are not deporting “dangerous people” as they contend. In my research with deportees in four countries, I have met many criminal and fugitive aliens who represented no danger to the United States during their stay there. Moreover, their removal from the US has often been devastating to their families.
Walter is a “criminal alien” whom I met in the Dominican Republic. Walter illegally crossed into the US when he was in his early twenties. He met and married a US citizen woman, and they had two children together. Walter was able to obtain legal permanent residency on the basis of their marriage. However, when he applied for legalization he did not mention that when he was 13 years old he had entered Puerto Rico illegally and had been deported. ICE did an investigation of his case after he had been granted a green card, and had been living a productive life in the US for 15 years. Walter was stopped by police officers in New York. When they ran his license, they discovered he had a deportation order. Walter was arrested and detained. He spent four years fighting his case before finally he was deported as a criminal alien. His crime: immigration fraud. Immigration violations account for twenty percent of all arrests of “criminal aliens.”
Walter’s deportation from the US took a father away from his US citizen children and does not make the US a safer place to live.
Tom is a “fugitive alien” whom I met in Brazil. Tom traveled to the US illegally and was arrested in Texas in 2005 by Border Patrol. At that time, Border Patrol agents engaged in “catch and release” and Tom was released three days later with a court date. He made his way to Marietta, Georgia where he found a job installing hardwood flooring. After two years in the US, Tom began his own hardwood flooring business – which meant he was earning good money and providing jobs for others. One day when Tom was driving home from church, a police officer stopped him because his plates had expired. He ran his name through an immigration database and found that Tom was a “fugitive alien.” He had never gone to his court date in Texas. Tom spent over a month in immigration detention and was deported to Brazil.
Although it may sound productive for ICE to deport “criminal aliens” and “fugitive aliens,” we must not be fooled by the rhetoric to think that these actions are making the United States a safer place. “Criminal aliens” more often than not have committed minor crimes and “fugitive aliens” are people who have not shown up for their immigration court dates. Meanwhile, deportations are transforming routine traffic stops by police agents into nightmares for non-citizens residing in the US as well as for their families who they leave behind.
In the absence of comprehensive immigration reform, ICE operatives continue to step up enforcement. This effort is costly – both in terms of ICE’s immense budget and the social costs of deporting parents, spouses and children from their communities – and ineffective – ICE is not making America safer through deportations.
TANYA GOLASH-BOZA is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and American Studies at the University of Kansas.