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ICE Announces Dragnet of Criminal Immigrants

Today the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) announced a roundup over the last week of nearly 3,000 alleged criminal immigrants from across the country.  The action follows a recent order from the Department of Homeland Security to focus only on serious criminals in their deportation efforts.

Last month Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced that immigration officials would focus enforcement efforts on serious criminals and delay deportation cases for most non-criminal immigrants who don’t pose a threat to public safety or national security. Homeland Security has been widely criticized for using fingerprints collected in local jails to identify and deport people arrested for minor traffic offenses and other misdemeanors. Napolitano promised a case-by-case review of deportation cases to look for serious criminals to deport.

Napolitano’s order would delay the deportations of hundreds of thousands of undocumented individuals in the system, using prosecutorial discretion to distinguish between serious criminals and those picked up for petty crimes or traffic violations.  In the announcement, ICE director John Morton did not specify the nature of the crimes allegedly committed by the 2,901 immigrants picked up last week.

The deportation review is going smoothly, according to US Rep. Luis Gutierrez, but he stressed that activists must remain vigilant and ensure that no non-criminals get caught up in the system and deported.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court plans to take up a case that would affect most DREAM Act students.

The Supreme Court will decide whether the government is free to deport illegal immigrants who came to this country as children and whose parents became lawful residents in the United States.

The case before the high court concerns whether U.S. immigration officials should avoid deporting illegal immigrants who came to this country as minors and, as Perry said, through no fault of their own. The government says it mainly targets criminals for deportation, and the immigrant in this case was arrested for trying to smuggle children across the border.

Courts on the West Coast have blocked deportation orders for some illegal immigrants because their parents had gained permanent-residence status and lived in the United States for more than seven years. Federal law cites these two factors as reasons for halting a deportation. And the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco has taken it a step further, deciding that a “parent’s status as a lawful permanent resident is imputed” to the “children residing with that parent.”

But Obama administration lawyers said the 9th Circuit was the only appeals court to adopt that view, and it was wrong as a matter of law. They urged the Supreme Court to rule that immigrants cannot “rely on a parent’s status” as grounds for avoiding deportation.

This is another example of the Obama Administration arguing something in court contrary to their public position on an issue, presumably because they want to maintain power for the executive branch. The President publicly supports the DREAM Act, and the deportation review clearly allows DREAM-eligible students to stay in America and even get work permits. But the Administration apparently wants the executive to control that process rather than the courts, so they will argue the other side before SCOTUS.

The issue is largely technical, but it could have an impact on Hispanic activists looking to see if the Administration has turned a corner from its recent history of record-high deportations.

On the other side of the political aisle, Republicans have introduced a bill that would actually force the deportation of undocumented domestic violence victims. All this would do is turn undocumented spouses into frightened indentured servants, as they would never call the police on a domestic violence claim for fear of being kicked out of the country. So it facilitates violence more than anything.


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David Dayen

David Dayen