U.S. immigration officials beefed up efforts to deport undocumented immigrants convicted of minor crimes as a way to meet their criminal deportation quotas, according to documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents were sent to traffic safety checkpoints set-up by local police departments to monitor peoples' immigration status, according to the ACLU.
Agency officials in Washington also advised agents to process more undocumented immigrants convicted on low-level offenses, the ACLU said.
“HQ has directed us to implement this plan and to REALLOCATE ALL AVAILABLE RESOURCE (sorry. Not “shouting”, just emphasizing to attaining this year’s criminal-alien removal target),” said an ICE official, whose name was redacted, in an email to other agents.
The allegations were first reported by USA Today, which obtained the documents from the ACLU.
Gillian Christensen, spokeswoman for ICE, said that the USA Today article story lacks context and does not present an accurate picture of the agency's efforts.
“Over the last four years, this Administration has fundamentally changed immigration enforcement policy,” Christensen said in a statement to Fox News Latino. “ICE is focused on smart, effective enforcement that prioritizes the removal of criminal aliens, recent border crossers and egregious immigration law violators, such as those who have been previously removed from the United States and ICE’s 2012 year-end removal numbers highlight this focus.”
But that statement differs from an earlier one Christensen gave to USA Today.
Christensen told then newspaper that "ICE does not have quotas," but instead relies on "annual performance goals" that "reflect the agency's commitment to using the limited resources provided by Congress."
The ACLU of North Carolina had filed a federal Freedom of Information Act while conducting its own investigation into racial profiling at traffic stops in North Carolina. Lawyers at the ACLU looked into a case where ICE agents were purportedly operating alongside local police at a seatbelt checkpoint in Jackson County – about an hour southwest of Asheville. At the checkpoint, federal agents arrested 15 undocumented immigrants and held a number of legal citizens for questioning for over an hour, according to the obtained documents.
The ACLU, through testimonies from people who passed through the checkpoint, said ICE agents and local police engaged in racial profiling by only screening the immigration status of Latinos, while waving other people through the checkpoint.
“Racial profiling doesn’t work and it subjects people to unwarranted stops to prove their citizenship,” Raul Pinto, staff attorney for the ACLU of North Carolina, told Fox News Latino. “ICE needs to take significant steps to ameliorate this problem.”
Pinto called the checkpoints and the alleged quotas enacted by ICE “troubling” and referred to the practice a “wide dragnet” that targets people – such as Latinos – who might be forced to prove their citizenship.
“These checkpoints show a real problem with these quotas that ICE has to abide by,” Pinto added.
Immigrant rights groups across the country were outraged with the news, claiming that ICE is only concerned about numbers and not the personal safety of citizens in the U.S.
“It’s more about meeting the numbers and less about our public safety,” said B. Loewe, an activist with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, based in Los Angeles. “This doesn’t help immigration enforcement or safety and just creates problems with the immigrant community.”
Other argued that the ICE method is actually smarter, more effective immigration law enforcement and does focus on public safety.
“If ICE had been doing this all along, instead of catch and release and exercising absurd prosecutorial discretion, then they would not have needed to jump start their numbers in this way,” said Jessica Vaughn, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, an immigration-restriction think thank in Washington, D.C.
The agency has recently been under pressure to increase its arrest numbers, going so far as to take arrests away from Customs and Border Protection for their own stats, Vaughn said.
“There is a lot of pressure coming from headquarters to the field because they feel the need to show Congress and the public that they’re enforcing immigration laws,” she added.
The quota controversy, however, is at odds with the Obama administration’s current proposal for comprehensive immigration reform.
The current administration – as well as a number of both Democratic and Republican senators – is desperately trying to pass some form of immigration reform in the coming months. Obama in his State of the Union speech and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in the Republican rebuttal advocated for both strengthening the border while providing a path to citizenship to the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.
“This seems at odds with what the administration is doing about immigration,” Vaughn said of the detentions.
At the end of ICE’s fiscal year in September of last year, the agency had deported 225,390 undocumented immigrants – a record that is well above its target of 210,000. Despite not announcing how many of the deportations were the result of minor offenses, in fiscal year 2011 it said that over a quarter of “criminal immigrants” were convicted of traffic offenses.
Follow Andrew O'Reilly on Twitter @aoreilly84.