From The Lawman’s Perspective
ICE officers round up illegal immigrants as part of a recent national sweep
By Andrew Moesel
By common sense estimations, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement division, the agency charged with tracking down, detaining and deporting illegal immigrants, has done a terrible job. How could they allow 11 million people to slip through their fingers, unnoticed, or at least, overlooked, some might ask.
But a deeper look into the plight of the immigration officer reveals a job full of contradictions and difficulties. Many times, the seeming failure of those charged with protecting the country’s borders, both real and abstract, stem not from their own performance but from the conflicted attitudes America has toward its immigrants.
Take, for example, a 1998 federal raid in Georgia that rounded up illegal migrants working on local onion farms. ICE agents swooped in quickly, using the element of surprise, arresting many workers and forcing thousands of others to flee. It all but shut down the onion harvest, however, causing local businessmen and politicians to lambaste the operation within hours of its execution.
That experience led immigration officers to attempt more subtle approaches. A program called Operation Vanguard identified possible illegal immigrants through business records, and then invited them to be interviewed in order to determine their actual status. Not surprisingly, few illegal immigrants showed up to their interviews.
These instances illustrate the balance immigration officials must strike between aggressively enforcing the law and minimizing the disruption to social and economic elements of society. Although many argue that illegal immigration has been detrimental to the American workforce, experience has shown the immediate withdrawal of this illegal labor could have disastrous consequences for many businesses.
Government agencies have therefore tried to focus their effort on immigrants who pose a criminal or terrorist threat, placing less effort on the population as a whole. With only about 2,000 full-time agents, and 11 million illegal immigrants, there’s only so much enforcement to go around (many are calling on the federal government to increase the number of agents).
Last week, the ICE made several high profile busts: a nationwide raid on a packaging company netted more than 1,000 illegal immigrants and a sweep in Florida led to 130 arrests of criminals who had been designated for deportation.
“ICE is out in full force to keep our communities safe by removing dangerous criminal aliens from our streets,” said Julie Myers, assistant secretary for ICE. “By finding and removing these criminals, we are able to greatly enhance public safety, while restoring integrity to our nation’s immigration system.”
Why not conduct these raids more often? Constitutional issues and reluctance from local law enforcement often complicate that strategy. Some constitutional activists fear that aggressive immigration enforcement will lead authorities to violate the civil rights of legal immigrants (something akin to racial profiling). Local police, for their part, have concerns that illegal immigrants will be more reluctant to report crime and become informants if afraid of deportation.
“Good law enforcement requires trust,” said Tim Edgar, an ACLU lawyer. “Reversing policies like New York City could drag state and local police into the business of questioning and detaining individuals solely on the basis of immigration status, driving a wedge between immigrant communities and the very police they need to keep safe.”
The NYPD does not require its officers to ask about a suspect’s immigration status, a practice they defended in front of Congress only two years ago. But in perhaps a sign of change, the New York Times reported recently that an increased number of local departments are asking the federal government to train their officers to enforce immigration statutes.