Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Widening Net

(Fifth in the 12-part BorderLines series "Aliens, Crime, and Drugs: Making the Connection.") The hunt for criminal aliens dates back to the late 1980s, but it has only been in the past few years that it has begun in earnest. The 1996 set of anti-immigrant acts went a long way toward establishing the legislative and policy foundations for this expanding manhunt, although it wasn’t until after Sept. 11 that Congress and the executive branch began pumping major resources into criminal alien programs. In the wake of Sept. 11, INS and DHS slowly started to put a new criminal alien infrastructure in place. The National Fugitive Operations Program, which targeted immigrants who hadn’t responded to immigration court orders known as “fugitive aliens” as well as criminal aliens, was established. INS/DHS also began to explore ways to engage local law enforcement in immigration enforcement through “287 (g) agreements.” Referring to a 1996 change in the Immigration and Naturalization Act, these agreements essentially deputize sheriff deputies, county jailors, and police as immigration agents. By 2002 only two such agreements were in place, but currently there are 67 ICE agreements with local police and sheriff departments – most of which were signed after 2006. In the first several years after the Sept. 11 attacks, DHS was overwhelmed with the reorganization of immigration enforcement and border control within this new department and with managing the infusion of new funding for agents, detention beds, and border security infrastructure. However, under the new leadership of DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff, DHS starting in 2005 began to hone its focus on criminal aliens. While terrorists remained central, at least rhetorically, to the mission of protecting the nation against “dangerous goods and people,” when ICE and CBP officials talked of “dangerous people” they were increasingly referring to criminal aliens, who represented a much larger and definable target than terrorists. As the national fear of an imminent terrorist attack diminished, DHS found broad and steadfast support among the public and in Congress for programs that targeted criminal aliens. “Operation Return to Sender” in 2006 was one of a flurry of new programs and operations that hunted down criminal aliens. National security and homeland security justifications for new immigration enforcement programs gave way to pronouncements about public safety and community security. On the occasion of a joint federal-local dragnet for criminal aliens in the Boston area on June 14, 2006, Secretary Chertoff said:
“Operation Return to Sender is another example of a new and tough interior enforcement strategy that seeks to catch and deport criminal aliens, increase worksite enforcement, and crack down hard on the criminal infrastructure that perpetuates illegal immigration. The fugitives captured in this operation threatened public safety in hundreds of neighborhoods and communities around the country. This department has no tolerance for their criminal behavior and we are using every authority at our disposal to bring focus to fugitive operations and rid communities of this criminality."
Other associated programs that target criminal aliens together with local law enforcement agencies are Operation Community Shield and Operation Stonegarden. In Operation Community Shield, ICE joins with local police to arrest suspected gang members not necessarily for any suspected crimes but for immigration violations. As part of DHS’ Border Security Initiative, Operation Stonegarden provides DHS grants to “support closer coordination of state and federal law enforcement agencies at our borders.” Through its national deployment of Fugitive Operations Teams and other interior enforcement operations such as Return to Sender, ICE has involved local law enforcement officials in joint raids. Local police and sheriff deputies join, in theory, not to enforce immigration law but to enforce criminal law since the priority targets are criminal aliens. Although ICE clearly defines its priorities as dangerous criminal aliens, in practice more than a third and oftentimes more than a half of those immigrants arrested by such raids are what ICE calls “collateral” arrests – not criminals, not fugitives, but simply immigration violators. Next: Increasing Federal/State/Local "Interoperability"

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