According to the Immigration Policy Center (IPC), the Obama administration soon will reach the milestone of having deported two million people since the president took office in 2009. "Regardless of the exact date this symbolic threshold is reached, it is important to keep in mind a much more important fact: most of the people being deported are not dangerous criminals. Despite claims by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that it prioritizes the apprehension of terrorists, violent criminals, and gang members, the agency’s own deportation statistics do not bear this out. Rather, most of the individuals being swept up by ICE and dropped into the U.S. deportation machine committed relatively minor, nonviolent crimes or have no criminal histories at all. Ironically, many of the immigrants being deported would likely have been able to remain in the country had the immigration reform legislation favored by the administration become law." The following excerpt appeared in the May-June 2014 NewsNotes.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has engaged in efforts for significant immigration reform, including enforcement policy, for many years; its position is that legislation which provides a path to citizenship for as many as possible of the current undocumented population living in the U.S. is best for immigrant families and communities.
In late March, Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, auxiliary bishop of Seattle and chairman of the USCCB’s committee on migration, sent the following letter to Jeh Johnson, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security:
"… [As] pastors who witness the human consequences of our broken immigration system every day, we are deeply troubled by the division of families caused by current immigration enforcement policies. In this regard, we urge you to take steps within your authority to limit these deportations in a way that protects immigrants who are no threat to the community and who might otherwise benefit from immigration reform legislation, and their families.
"As your agency reviews immigration enforcement policy, we ask that you take the following steps:
"Expand prosecutorial discretion and ensure that the policy is implemented: We support the use of prosecutorial discretion, but feel that the policy has not been robustly implemented and has not achieved the goal of protecting families and low-level offenders from deportation. We urge the Administration to more broadly utilize prosecutorial discretion to protect immigrant families and communities. A person’s equities in the country, particularly their family ties, should be a determinative factor in making decisions. Persons who are no threat to the community should be considered for prosecutorial discretion and not placed in the Priority One category.
"We recommend that the 2011 Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) memorandum outlining the prosecutorial discretion policy be expanded agency-wide to apply to all detention and enforcement decisions and revised to reflect these priorities. The Administration also should create a process whereby immigrants can proactively apply for prosecutorial discretion. Moreover, the low rate of deferrals demonstrates the need for review of these decisions at a higher level within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
"End federal-state enforcement programs: The use of the Secure Communities program—mandated for every jurisdiction—and the 287(g) program has contributed to the increase in deportations and, in our view, undermined basic civil rights. We strongly believe these programs should be phased out, as they create fear and distrust in immigrant communities. State and local law enforcement should be able to focus upon crimes in their community, not immigration enforcement. At a minimum, detainers should be placed on those who are Level One offenders and not to those who have minor offenses.
"End the use of methods that exclude due process protections: The use of such methods as expedited removals, stipulated orders, stipulated removals, voluntary removals, and reinstatements do not include judicial review and were responsible for over 75 percent of removals from the ICE agency in FY 2013. These methods should be minimized, especially with regard to persons who have no criminal offenses and have built equities in this country.
"Reform deportation policies to ensure that those who are returned are safe: For those who are deported, we ask that you ensure that their return is achieved in a safe and humane manner and that they are not returned to particularly dangerous locations. Families should be kept together, all belongings should be returned prior to deportation, and night time deportations should be eliminated. We have concern that migrants who are returned to dangerous places at night will become victims of human traffickers and drug cartels. Unaccompanied children who are returned to Mexico and Central America should be provided family reunification and re-integration services upon their arrival.
"Elimination of Operation Streamline: We are opposed to ‘Operation Streamline,’ which places criminal penalties on migrants who have crossed the border, often to reunite with families or to find work. Migrants who are prosecuted through the program often do not know their rights and are unable to access counsel. Many are placed in detention for up to six months for a first offense and even longer for a second offense. We find this program in violation of basic due process rights. It also fails to deter migrants desperate to support their families and can be considered a waste of precious federal resources that should be targeted toward the prosecution of drug traffickers, human traffickers, and smugglers.
"Expansion of community-based alternative to detention programs: We strongly support the expansion of alternative to detention (ATD) programs that are community-based and based upon a case management model. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are equipped to assist with this ATD program and have demonstrated success in ensuring that persons appear at their court proceedings and receive legal support. This would help ensure that immigrants without a serious offense are able to better access community resources and adequately defend their rights in immigration court.
"Expansion of ‘Know Your Rights’ presentations: We urge you to deploy system-wide presentations from experts to those who are detained and at risk of deportation on their basic rights. ‘Know Your Rights’ presentations have been used in detention settings to great effectiveness and are not only a benefit to the immigrants but also to the government, as persons are more aware of their rights and are able to exercise them more efficiently.
"… [We] feel that the record number of deportations separating families is a moral crisis which must be addressed. We stand ready to work with you not only to create a workable immigration system but also to implement enforcement policies that are humane and just."