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Cracking the SAFE Act

Understanding the Impact and Context of H.R. 2278, the “Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act”

On June 6, 2013, the House Judiciary Committee considered H.R. 2278, the “Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act,” commonly known as the SAFE Act. This wide-ranging immigration enforcement bill would make unlawful presence in the United States a criminal act punishable with jail time, greatly expand detention of immigrants, authorize states and local governments to create their own immigration enforcement laws, and impose harsher penalties and restrictions for immigration violations, among other enforcement-related provisions. The bill, introduced by Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Immigration Subcommittee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC), was the subject of a contentious committee mark up, ending in its passage out of committee on a straight party line vote of 20 to 15. The SAFE Act is one of several bills that the House leadership might offer as part of its “step-by-step” approach to immigration reform, in which various House bills addressing different aspects of the immigration system may be voted on separately.Read more...

Published On: Mon, Sep 16, 2013 | Download File

The Criminal Alien Program (CAP): Immigration Enforcement in Prisons and Jails

The Criminal Alien Program (CAP) is an expansive immigration enforcement program that leads to the initiation of removal proceedings in many cases. While CAP has existed in one form or another for decades, there is still much to be learned about the program, how it is organized, and how it works. What is known is that CAP extends to every area of the country and intersects with most state and local law enforcement agencies.

For years, the CAP program has operated with little public attention and many of its elements have only recently come to light following FOIA litigation against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The information obtained through the lawsuit regarding CAP’s current organization and staffing suggests CAP is not a single program, but a loose-knit group of several different programs operating within ICE. Other than a small number of staff responsible for the administration of CAP at ICE headquarters, there is no dedicated CAP staff. Rather, ICE pulls personnel and resources from across the agency to perform CAP-related functions.  

The ICE declarations and deposition also explain how CAP functions within prisons and jails. There appears to be little consistency in, and little or no policy governing, how CAP cooperates with state and local law enforcement agencies in different regions and in how CAP interacts with detainees in different facilities. Instead, CAP appears to function as an ad hoc set of activities that operate differently across the country and across penal institutions, raising questions about the adequacy of oversight, training, and accountability of the personnel implementing CAP.

This information confirms that there is still much about CAP that remains unknown or unclear.  Given the breadth of CAP, the centrality of its role in immigration enforcement, and its large impact on the immigrant community, it is critical that ICE clarify how CAP operates.Read more...

Published On: Thu, Aug 01, 2013 | Download File

The Fallacy of "Enforcement First"

Immigration Enforcement Without Immigration Reform Has Been Failing for Decades

Opponents of a new legalization program for unauthorized immigrants living and working in the United States frequently claim that we must try “enforcement first.” That is to say, we must adequately enforce the laws on the books before we can contemplate the formulation of more reasonable laws. This stance is nonsensical for two reasons. First of all, it ignores the fact that the unworkable nature of our immigration laws is itself facilitating unauthorized immigration; so it is illogical to hope that stronger enforcement of those unworkable laws will somehow lessen unauthorized immigration. Secondly, the “enforcement first” perspective conveniently overlooks the fact that the United States has been pursuing an “enforcement first” approach to immigration control for more than two-and-a-half decades—and it has yet to work.Read more...

Published On: Thu, May 09, 2013 | Download File

Enforcement Without Focus: Non-Violent Offenders Caught in the US Immigration Enforcement System

Since the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was created in 2003, its immigration-enforcement agencies—Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)—have been officially devoted to the protection of U.S. national security and the prevention of terrorist attacks. However, much  of the work done by CBP and ICE on a day-to-day basis involves apprehending and deporting non-violent immigrants who have only committed immigration offenses such as unlawful entry or re-entry into the United States. The highly punitive treatment of these immigration offenders serves no national-security purpose and is not an effective deterrent.

A new report released by the University of Arizona’s Center for Latin American Studies identifies three enforcement programs that have contributed significantly to an over-emphasis on low-priority targets: Operation Streamline, the Alien Transfer and Exit Program (“lateral repatriation”), and Secure Communities. The report, In the Shadow of the Wall: Family Separation, Immigration Enforcement and Security, is based on data from the Migrant Border Crossing Study. During 2010, 2011, and 2012, a team of researchers from the United States and Mexico conducted survey interviews with 1,113 recent deportees about their experiences crossing the border, being apprehended by U.S. authorities, and being repatriated to Mexico. The surveys yield new insight into the conduct and consequences of U.S. immigration-enforcement programs.

Operation Streamline

Published On: Tue, Apr 02, 2013 | Download File

The U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform (1990-1997): “Jordan Commission”

As the Congress begins a serious discussion on immigration reform, it would be a mistake to ignore the lessons of the past.  In that vein, many members of Congress are invoking the The U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform, informally known as the Jordan Commission, for its chair, Barbara Jordan, a former Democratic Congresswoman from Texas.  Issued in 1990’s, the Commission’s recommendations reflect the thinking of the time, but do not necessarily provide guidance for resolving today’s immigration crisis.  This fact sheet provides a brief overview on the Commission and the necessity of tempering its recommendations with the knowledge we have gained in the past quarter of a century since its recommendations were released.Read more...

Published On: Tue, Feb 05, 2013 | Download File

A Decade of Rising Immigration Enforcement

With roughly 11 million unauthorized immigrants living in the United States, some question whether the nation’s immigration laws are being seriously enforced. In truth, due to legal and policy changes in recent years, the immigration laws are enforced more strictly now than ever before. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has reported record numbers of removals during the Obama administration, especially of noncitizens with criminal convictions. Meanwhile, fewer noncitizens are trying to enter the country illegally, and those caught by the Border Patrol are now regularly charged with federal crimes. Together, these trends reflect a sweeping and punitive transformation in U.S. immigration enforcement.

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“Removals” & “Returns”

When noncitizens who violate the immigration laws are forced to leave the United States, their departure is classified as a “removal” or a “return.” (See the glossary for definitions of these terms.) DHS reported 391,953 “removals” during the 2011 fiscal year, slightly below the record set in 2009. Meanwhile, DHS reported 323,542 “returns” in 2011, the lowest number since 1970 {Figure 1}.

Figure 1: DHS “removals” & “returns” FY 2002-2011

Figure 1

Published On: Tue, Jan 08, 2013 | Download File

Falling Through the Cracks

The Impact of Immigration Enforcement on Children Caught Up in the Child Welfare System

One of the many consequences of an aggressive immigration enforcement system is the separation of children, often U.S. citizens, from their unauthorized immigrant parents. Take the case of Felipe Montes, a father who has spent the past two years fighting to reunite with his three young children, who were placed in foster care in North Carolina following Montes’ deportation to Mexico in late 2010. Such cases only scratch at the surface of a growing problem. Our immigration policies often fail to address the needs of millions of children whom they directly impact.

According to the Pew Hispanic Center, approximately 5.5 million children in the United States, including 4.5 million U.S.-born citizens, live in mixed-legal status families with at least one parent who is an unauthorized immigrant. These children are at risk of being separated from a parent at any time. Parents facing removal must frequently make the decision whether to take their children with them or leave their children in the U.S. in the care of another parent, relative, or friend. In many cases, a parent may determine that it is in their child’s best interest to remain in the U.S. However, in some cases, a parent’s ability to make such decisions is compromised when their child enters the child welfare system, which can prompt a series of events leading to the termination of parental rights. The lack of consistent protocols across the different public systems that encounter separated families further exacerbates the problem.Read more...

Published On: Wed, Dec 12, 2012 | Download File

The 287(g) Program: A Flawed and Obsolete Method of Immigration Enforcement

Under Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) may deputize selected state and local law enforcement officers to perform the functions of federal immigration agents. Like employees of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), so-called “287(g) officers” have access to federal immigration databases, may interrogate and arrest noncitizens believed to have violated federal immigration laws, and may lodge “detainers” against alleged noncitizens held in state or local custody.

The program has attracted a wide range of critics since the first 287(g) agreement was signed more than ten years ago. Among other concerns, opponents say the program lacks proper federal oversight, diverts resources from the investigation of local crimes, and results in profiling of Latino residents—as was documented following the entry of a 287(g) agreement with Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona. Following the nationwide expansion of the Secure Communities program, which has its own drawbacks but is operated exclusively by federal authorities, critics have also asked whether the 287(g) program continues to serve any law enforcement benefit.

This fact sheet provides an overview of how the 287(g) program works, as well as arguments raised by its critics. Read more...

Published On: Thu, Nov 29, 2012 | Download File

Border Patrol Agents as Interpreters Along the Northern Border: Unwise Policy, Illegal Practice

By Lisa Graybill

Advocates along the Northern Border report a recent, sharp increase in the use of U.S. Border Patrol (USBP) agents to provide interpretation services to state and local law enforcement officers and emergency responders. This most often occurs when an officer or responder encounters an individual who does not speak English and proactively reaches out to USBP for assistance. But it has also occurred when USBP agents respond to an incident report in lieu of, or in addition to, local law enforcement officers. In other cases, USBP agents have reportedly begun responding to 911 emergency assistance calls, especially if the caller is known or perceived not to speak English. Much of this activity appears to have been precipitated by the fact that the U.S.-Canada border has undergone a dramatic transformation, including an influx of newly assigned USBP agents.

Immigrants, their advocates, and community members are reporting—and official statistics confirm—that there are simply too many USBP agents on the ground, apparently with too much time on their hands, who lack adherence to stated priorities.

This special report by Lisa Graybill for the Immigration Policy Center lays out the problems with border patrol agents serving as translators and make recommendations intended to promote Title VI compliance, maintain the integrity of the USBP mission on the Northern Border, and protect the rights of immigrants and their families who call the Northern Border home.

  • Listen to the teleconference.

Published On: Tue, Sep 25, 2012 | Download File

Public Education for Immigrant Students: States Challenge Supreme Court’s Decision in Plyler v. Doe

In June 1982, the Supreme Court issued Plyler v. Doe, a landmark decision holding that states cannot constitutionally deny students a free public education on account of their immigration status. By a 5-4 vote, the Court found that any resources which might be saved from excluding undocumented children from public schools were far outweighed by the harms imposed on society at large from denying them an education. Read more...

Published On: Fri, Jun 15, 2012 | Download File