February 4, 2009
Contact: Michelle Mittelstadt
WASHINGTON — The federal fugitive operations program established
in 2003 to locate, apprehend and remove fugitive aliens who pose
a threat to the community has instead focused chiefly on arresting
unauthorized immigrants without criminal convictions, according
to a Migration Policy Institute report issued today.
The report, Collateral
Damage: An Examination of ICE’s Fugitive Operations
Program, found that 73 percent of the
nearly 97,000 people arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs
Enforcement (ICE) fugitive operations teams between the
program’s inception in 2003 and early 2008 were unauthorized
immigrants without criminal records.
Despite the National Fugitive Operations Program’s mandate
to apprehend dangerous fugitives, arrests of fugitive aliens
with criminal convictions have represented a steadily declining
share of total arrests by the teams, accounting for just 9 percent
of total arrests in 2007, down from 32 percent in 2003, according
to the Department of Homeland Security’s own estimates.
The National Fugitive Operations Program has experienced greater
growth than any other DHS immigration enforcement program – its
budget rising from $9 million in 2003 to $218 million last year.
In its first five years, the program has received more than $625
million. Yet ICE estimated last October that 557,762 fugitive
aliens remain in the United States.
“The National Fugitive Operations Program has not delivered
on its promise to find and remove dangerous fugitives. The evidence
suggests that this is a case of ‘mission drift,’ in
which the program has used public funding intended for one purpose
for something entirely different: Apprehending non-violent non-fugitives – who
constitute the easiest targets,” said MPI Non-resident
Fellow Michael Wishnie, a Clinical Professor at Yale Law School.
While the 104 fugitive operations teams (up from eight in 2003)
are supposed to arrest fugitive aliens – i.e. those with
outstanding deportation, exclusion or removal orders, or those
who have failed to report to the Department of Homeland Security
as ordered – fully 40 percent of those arrested in 2007
had no outstanding removal order (known as ordinary status violators).
The arrests of ordinary status violators have increased since
ICE in 2006 increased the quota for each seven-person fugitive
operations teams from 125 arrests annually to 1,000.
Said Muzaffar Chishti, Director of MPI’s Office at New
York University School of Law: “It is troubling that a
program billed as having an explicit national security focus
instead appears to be aimed mainly at arresting non-criminal
unauthorized immigrants through the use of SWAT-like operations – typically
in residential settings – that increase the risks to law
enforcement personnel and civilians alike, alienate communities
and misdirect scarce personnel resources.”
A series of ICE memos obtained by the Immigration Justice Clinic
at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law through a Freedom of Information
Act lawsuit, which were released today, illustrate the 2006 policy
shift that de-emphasized the focus on high-priority targets in
favor of increased arrests.
“ICE has created tremendous bureaucratic incentives for
fugitive operation teams to abandon focus on high-priority targets
in favor of a shotgun approach of undisciplined home raids. ICE’s
home raids have primarily led to the arrests of individuals who
posed no risk to society and have come at a significant cost
to immigrant families and to ICE’s own enforcement priorities,” said
Cardozo law professor Peter L. Markowitz, who directs the Immigration
Justice Clinic and represented plaintiffs in the FOIA lawsuit.
The MPI report offers a series of recommendations, including:
- The 1,000-person annual arrest quota per team should be replaced
with a system that prioritizes the arrest of dangerous fugitives
over all other arrests. And the arrest priority system should
be re-ordered to reflect that individuals with no criminal
history or with in absentia removal orders should
be designated the lowest priority.
- Fugitive operations teams should approach only targeted houses
- ICE should redeploy resources when the teams are unable to
identify or pursue dangerous fugitives.
- ICE should develop a standard operating procedure addressing
constitutional and humanitarian concerns that arise during
fugitive operations team enforcement actions. All team agents
should be required to undergo comprehensive training in accordance
with this procedure, in addition to their basic law-enforcement
- Substantial National Fugitive Operations Team resources should
be directed at improving the often error-ridden database from
which information about fugitive aliens is drawn.
The report is available online at: www.migrationpolicy.org/pubs/NFOP_Feb09.pdf
The press release on the Cardozo FOIA lawsuit findings is available
The Migration Policy Institute is an independent, non-partisan,
non-profit think tank in Washington, DC dedicated to analysis
of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development
and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at the local,
national and international levels.