Immigration Justice Clinic Publicizes Previously Secret Data Showing Bush-Era Immigration Raids Were Law Enforcement Failure

Apr 13, 2009 — The Immigration Justice Clinic at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law of Yeshiva University has made public key documents demonstrating that the Bush administration’s immigration home raid strategy was a law enforcement failure. The papers – including both new data and previously secret memoranda – reveal that the raids, which terrorized immigrant communities across the country, were shockingly ineffective at capturing their purported targets.

The lawsuit, filed by the Immigration Justice Clinic under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in a Manhattan federal court, sought records pertaining to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency’s (ICE) sweeping campaign of home raids. ICE released this critical data after a settlement was reached just hours after President Barack Obama issued his “Presidential Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government” on his first day in office.

The lawsuit sought to verify what many immigrant families and local law enforcement personnel already knew – that ICE’s campaign of raiding homes in the pre-dawn hours with little to no accountability has resulted in destruction and pain for hard-working immigrant communities.

In addition, the data reveals that while the human costs of ICE’s home raid strategy were painfully high, the law enforcement gains were shockingly low.

“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,” explained Professor Peter L. Markowitz, director of Cardozo’s Immigration Justice Clinic, which represented the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “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.”

Three ICE memoranda issued in 2006, which have never before been released, set forth a series of dramatic policy changes that collectively set the stage for the Bush administration’s widely publicized campaign of immigration home raids.

Prior to 2006, ICE fugitive operation teams (FOTs), consisting of approximately seven agents each, were expected to arrest 125 so-called “fugitives” – purportedly high priority targets – per year. Moreover, 75 percent of those arrests were required to be, what ICE termed, “criminal aliens.” In early 2006, facing political pressure to look tough on immigration enforcement, ICE increased each FOT’s annual arrest quota from 125 arrests per year to 1,000 arrests per year. Overnight, these same seven person teams were expected to become eight times more productive.

These memoranda also reveal that FOTs were encouraged to abandon any purported focus on “high priority targets,” as ICE eliminated the requirement that 75 percent of the arrests needed to be “criminal aliens,” and, despite ICE’s previous denials, allowed FOTs to count any arrest at all, even arrests of merely undocumented individuals.

Predictably, this led FOTs to lose focus on their purported targets and to instead use overly aggressive tactics to go after the low hanging fruit of immigration enforcement – undocumented workers. The data released by ICE paints a vivid picture of the inefficiencies inherent in the Bush immigration raid strategy. Since the enactment of the newly released 2006 policy memoranda, the number of “criminal aliens” arrested per FOT has dropped a staggering 62 percent and FOTs have become 23 percent less efficient at capturing “fugitives.”

One of the newly released 2006 policy memoranda shows that ICE’s campaign actually led to significant declines in the percentage of arrests attributable to each of its top four arrest priority categories.

According to ICE, its top priority is arresting “fugitives that pose a threat to national security,” but between fiscal year 2005 and 2008, ICE arrested only one such individual. During that same period, the percentage of arrests attributable to ICE’s second priority class, “fugitives that pose a threat to the community,” declined 55 percent.

The percentage of third priority arrests, “fugitives convicted of violent crimes,” declined 50 percent. Likewise, the percentage of arrests attributable to ICE’s fourth priority category, “fugitives with criminal records,” declined 32 percent. Since the inception of ICE’s 2006 policy changes and the mass raid strategy, the only percentage that has increased is ICE’s lowest priority class, immigrants with no criminal background, which has gone up 32 percent.

“The secret memoranda and new data released today reveal that the Bush Administration put headlines before humans. We welcome Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano’s January 30th directive calling for an internal review and assessment of ICE’s FOT program,” explained Lynly Egyes, a third-year law student from Cardozo’s Immigration Justice Clinic.

The Migration Policy Institute issued a report which independently concluded that ICE’s National Fugitive Operations Program lost sight of its mission to arrest dangerous fugitives.

“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.

“The Obama administration should be applauded for its genuine commitment to government transparency, as exhibited in the release of these documents. In light of the documents and data released today, we call on the administration to immediately suspend ICE’s campaign of home raids pending DHS’s review of the efficacy and human costs of such raids,” said Markowitz.

Read more from The New York Times article, “Target of Immigrant Raids Shifted” published February 4, 2009, where Prof. Peter L. Markowitz was interviewed about the release of this new data. Also, see a list of related news articles here.

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