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Collateral Damage: An Examination of ICE's Fugitive Operations Program
February 2009

Collateral Damage: An Examination of ICE's Fugitive Operations Program

The U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement’s National Fugitive Operations Program (NFOP) was created in 2003 to improve national security by dispatching Field Operations Teams (FOTs) to locate and apprehend dangerous individuals with existing removal orders. In this report, the authors argue that the program is not operating in accordance with its legislative purpose, based on trends that suggest high-priority criminal fugitive aliens constitute a small and steadily declining share of total FOT arrests, while low-priority noncriminal fugitive aliens and nonfugitive ordinary status violators—whose arrest is outside the immediate scope of NFOP responsibilities—comprise the vast majority of overall apprehensions.

To make their case, the authors examine the history, structure, and practices of NFOP; analyze the impact of the program’s rapid growth; and demonstrate substantial gaps between its stated mission priorities and its actual results and accomplishments.

This report finds a number of flaws in the program’s basic design. These include inadequate training programs for FOT agents, reliance on outdated intelligence, and lack of individualized suspicion protocols—all of which contribute to jeopardizing the safety of FOT officers, alienating communities, and increasing the likelihood of officer misconduct, which can potentially lead to costly civil litigations. The report also raises concern over NFOP’s arrest quota system, which fails to distinguish between the different priority levels of immigration violators, thereby encouraging the agency to direct scarce resources towards apprehending the easiest, rather than the most dangerous, targets. The report concludes with recommendations to address these challenges.

Table of Contents 

I. Introduction

II. Background

III. Findings

IV. Issues and Analysis

V. Conclusions and Recommendations