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Government Self-Deportation Program Attracts More Criticism Than Immigrants

Government Self-Deportation Program Attracts More Criticism Than Immigrants

Immigrants with outstanding deportation orders can turn themselves in and leave the country voluntarily through a pilot program launched August 5. "Scheduled Departure" marks a new government attempt to remove from the country so-called fugitive aliens — immigrants who previously received final deportation orders but failed to leave the United States.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency running the program, estimates there are approximately 572,000 fugitive aliens in the country, and those with no criminal history (about 457,000) are eligible to participate.

However, only six people had come forward as of August 13, an ICE spokeswoman in San Diego told the Associated Press.

The pilot will run until August 22 in San Diego and Santa Ana, California; Phoenix, Arizona; Chicago, Illinois; and Charlotte, North Carolina. ICE may expand it to other parts of the country if it is deemed successful.

Immigrant advocates and immigration attorneys have universally criticized the program as a futile exercise, asserting that few immigrants will elect to participate.

ICE officials, on the other hand, maintain that the program is a "compassionately conceived enforcement initiative" that permits unauthorized immigrants with outstanding deportation orders to depart the United States on their own terms. Participants in the program will have up to 90 days to arrange their travel plans and leave the country. ICE has also stated it will help pay travel costs for participants who are unable to pay on their own.

ICE Assistant Secretary Julie Myers first announced Scheduled Departure during an interview on the Spanish-language television program Al Punto on July 27. In the interview, Myers emphasized that the program is aimed at those who would prefer to depart from the United States voluntarily, rather than risk ICE detaining them in workplace raids or at their homes.

Since September 11, 2001, immigration authorities in the United States have prioritized apprehending and deporting fugitive aliens.

ICE's legacy agency, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), established the National Fugitive Operations Program in February 2002. ICE says it now has 90 active Fugitive Operations teams, with 14 more scheduled to deploy in the next two months.

In the past two years, the Fugitive Operations Program's arrest numbers have grown exponentially. According to ICE press releases, ICE arrested 30,407 immigrants through the program in fiscal year (FY) 2007, roughly twice as many people as in FY 2006 (15,462).

As of July 31, ICE said its fugitive operations teams had arrested more than 26,000 people in FY 2008. For the current fiscal year, Congress allocated $218 million for the program. Congress has given ICE more than $625 million for the program over the last five years.

Immigrant advocates have criticized the expansion of the Fugitive Operations Program. They claim the program has generated heightened fear within immigrant communities and has resulted in the arrest of nonfugitive immigrants who become accidentally caught up in ICE's enforcement actions.

Media reports have emphasized the heavy-handed nature of ICE's fugitive operations raids, which often take place in the early morning hours, at people's homes, and in front of small children, causing financial hardship and emotional trauma for the family members of those arrested.

ICE has defended Scheduled Departure as a response to many of these concerns. By participating in the program, ICE officials say, fugitive immigrants can avoid sudden arrest and almost immediate deportation. ICE Field Office Director Jim Hayes has also noted that the Scheduled Departure program could cut detention costs for the government, since fugitive immigrants would otherwise be detained if arrested.

However, most immigrant advocates and immigration experts say the program offers no incentives for immigrants to come forward. They argue that immigrants with outstanding deportation orders who have decided to leave the United States can always do so on their own — with no ICE involvement.

Advocates also point out that Scheduled Departure participants do not receive any discernable immigration benefits in exchange for turning themselves in. Although ads for the program state that surrendering to the immigration authorities will be "noted" in the participant's immigration records, ICE officials have clearly stated that coming forward will not improve the participant's chances of reentering the United States in the future.

Immigrants who are ordered removed from the United States must generally wait anywhere from five to 20 years and obtain permission before they apply to reenter. The federal government grants such permission at its discretion.

Policy Beat in Brief:

Post-Postville Inquiries. The House Judiciary Committee's July 24 hearing entitled "Immigration Raids: Postville and Beyond," featured testimony about the May 12 raid of the Agriprocessors Inc. meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa. Panel members highlighted the lack of adequate access to legal counsel for the workers arrested and the workers' misunderstanding of the charges brought against them. State labor officials have also found evidence of child-labor law violations at the Agriprocessors plant. Immigrant advocates staged a large-scale demonstration on July 27 to protest the Postville raid.

Visas for Iraqi Nationals. Iraqi nationals who face an "ongoing threat" because they worked for the U.S. government on or after March 30, 2003, are eligible to apply for special immigrant visas, according to a new U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) memo. Applicants must prove they worked for the U.S. government for at least one year and also must pass a Department of Homeland Security background check. The new memo gives these guidelines for the 5,000 special immigrant visas that the National Defense Authorization Act of 2008 mandates for each of the next five years. An additional 500 visas are available for Iraqi and Afghan translators who worked for the U.S. government for at least 12 months and who received a recommendation from a U.S. military commander or embassy official.

Hospital Deportations. Hospitals around the country actively repatriate unauthorized immigrant patients in their care according to a recent New York Times article. The article focused on hospitals that had "deported" uninsured immigrants with serious medical conditions because of the costs for these patients' rehabilitative care and daily upkeep; the hospitals also could not find nursing homes willing to accept them. Unauthorized immigrants are not eligible for long-term care under Medicaid, which means the hospitals did not receive reimbursement for those immigrants' medical care. Immigrant advocates have criticized this practice, and medical experts have expressed concern that critically ill patients can be deported to their home countries with no assurance of receiving medical care.

State and Local Policy Beat in Brief

Business Response to Anti-Immigrant Measures. Industry groups around the country are turning to lawsuits and legislative action to block or dilute immigration laws that may impact businesses. In Arizona, a business-backed group procured more than enough signatures to add a ballot initiative that would amend Arizona's recent law requiring all employers to use the federal E-Verify database to determine employees' work eligibility. In Oklahoma, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Oklahoma Chamber of Commerce filed a lawsuit against the state to prevent it from implementing a new law that would require public employers and their contractors to use E-Verify. A U.S. District Court judge recently issued a preliminary injunction to block several of the Oklahoma law's provisions. The state-level employer movements are seen as part of a national push back against laws targeting employers.

Massachusetts New Americans Initiative. Massachusetts will launch a statewide "New Americans Agenda" to integrate immigrants into the larger community, a program similar to one in Illinois. State officials, policy advisors, and immigrant advocates will hold a series of meetings on how to better integrate the state's immigrant population. Based on these meetings, the Massachusetts Office for Refugees and Immigrants (MORI), in collaboration with the governor's advisory council and the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA), will present Governor Deval Patrick with a series of policy recommendations by July 1, 2009.

New Haven ID Cards. New Haven officials may withhold the names of participants in the Elm City Resident Card program in a preliminary decision by the Connecticut State Freedom of Information Commission. The commission stated that releasing cardholders' names would cause a public safety risk. In July 2007, New Haven launched a program that allows all city residents, regardless of their immigration status, to sign up for a New Haven city ID card. The card gives holders access to city services and the ability to open a bank account. Anti-illegal-immigration groups in New Haven and around the country have heavily criticized the program, arguing that cardholder names should be publicly available.

New York City Language Access Initiative. All New York City agencies will need to provide language assistance in the six foreign languages most commonly spoken in the city, according to a new executive order issued by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The six languages are Spanish, Chinese, Russian, Korean, Italian, and French Creole. Agencies have until January 1, 2009, to submit a plan to Mayor Bloomberg detailing the type of translation services their clients need. About 25 percent of New Yorkers do not speak English as their primary language according to the mayor's executive order.

San Francisco "Sanctuary" Policy. In a partial retreat from its sanctuary policy, San Francisco has developed a protocol for handing over to federal authorities juvenile unauthorized immigrants convicted of crimes. The change came soon after the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the city was "shielding" juvenile offenders from federal immigration authorities, and that the city had chartered flights to Honduras for juveniles convicted of drug offenses. Anti-illegal-immigration advocates criticized the San Francisco policy as offering "sanctuary" to unauthorized immigrants who had committed crimes.