KnoxNews.com out of Tennessee reports an August 27, 2010 AP news item indicating that 27 of 820 people scooped up by the state wildlife department for fishing without a license, and who also lacked identification, turned out to be immigrants who were turned over to Davidson County Jail. The Jail then turned them over to US Immigration and Customs and Enforcement (ICE) for deportation. Davidson County is one of many jurisdictions across the country that has signed a “287(g)” agreement with ICE. “Secure Communities” is another program which allows ICE to comb local jails for undocumented immigrants and for local law enforcement to cooperate with and receive training from ICE.
Despite ICE’s stated policy lately that they are focusing removal investigations on criminals, ICE’s own statistics reveal that’s not really what is happening on the ground. Notably, fishing without a license is not a deportable offense. So, presumably most of these deportees were removed for non-crime related reasons such as entry without inspection, visa overstay, or other deportable criminal offenses. Nonetheless, the result is lives ruined and families split over something as minor as fishing without a license. Everyone else caught without a license just paid a fine.
ICE recently released removal data from 2007 to 2010 broken down by criminal and non-criminal removals. (Scroll down the page at this link.) The 2010 data is through August 2010. (The government’s fiscal year runs from October 1 to September 30). In 2007, during President Bush’s term, there were 291,060 removals, of which 102,040 or 35% were criminals. In 2009, there were 389,834 removals, of which 136,323 or 35% were criminals. For 2010 so far, there have been 310,013 removals, of which 152,862 or 50% were criminals and 50% were not criminals. So, the 25% increase in deportations from 2007 is indicative that the Obama administration is hardly soft on enforcement.
Moreover, ICE’s own statistics show that at least half of the removals are of non-criminals. The data on criminals alone who were removed do not distinguish between those people removed because of crimes that make them removable (not all crimes are a basis for deportation), versus those who committed non-removable crimes but still ended up in jails or had other encounters with state and local law enforcement agencies because of 287(g) agreements.
Meanwhile, ICE has a FY2010 budget of $5.2 billion of which $2.55 billion is for salaries and expenses for detention and removal and $200 million is for Secure Communities. See ICE Budget Fact Sheet for FY2010. This is excluding the recent $600 million appropriations enacted by Congress a few weeks ago.
This comes out to $1.6 million per person removed in 2010 so far. An April 2010 Congressional Research Report study of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. estimates there were 10-12 million immigrants in the US without authorization between 2008 and 2009 while recent data estimates there may be “only” 10 million. Using these figures, if it takes $5.2 billion to investigate and remove 310,000 unauthorized immigrants per year, then it will take more than 20 years and over $100 billion, without inflation, to remove 10 million people. That figure does not include the costs to local law enforcement to investigate and catch people through channels ICE doesn’t get to, such as just fish’n. Nor does it include the cost of courts, government prosecutors, detention facilities, transportation and other costs associated with removing someone from the U.S. Nor does it include the costs to local jurisdictions for social welfare needs of parentless US citizen children or remaining legal immigrant or US citizen single parents struggling to make ends meet when the primary income earner is deported. And, finally, this does not account for the often two or more years of delay in the immigration courts before a judge comes to a decision of removal that is final.
Do Americans really want to spend $100 billion now or over the next 20 years to deport 10 million people? This is one of the three stark choices we need to make: 1) Deport 10 million people now or over 20 years; or 2) enact comprehensive immigration reform that fixes the current legal system and the reasons why people come or stay illegally, and include a pathway to citizenship for these 10 million who can pay fees and taxes into the treasury; or 3) do nothing and still spend $5.2 billion a year to deport 310,000, but not fix the rest of the immigration ecosystem.