Thursday, February 19, 2009

Race-Based Roundup Revealed

Immigration advocates have long asserted that ICE raids at workplaces and in neighborhoods sweep people up based on race, rather than facts about individuals violating immigration laws. ICE's internal investigation of a Baltimore sweep now reveals that a supervisor instructed his team to arrest as many immigrants as possible, regardless of where or how, in order to meet a quota.

In the frigid morning of Jan. 23, 2007, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers seized 24 people during a sweep of a Baltimore 7-Eleven. We have now learned that their supervisor had ordered them to go out and round up as many aliens as they could. A summary of an ICE internal investigation of the incident says that this boss "related that he didn't really care where they had to go and whether the aliens were fugitives or not, he just wanted them to bring more bodies in."

Racial profiling of this nature is prohibited by law. ICE cannot legally detain someone without reasonable suspicion, based on articulable facts, that an individual has broken the law. A person's skin color or language are not sufficient facts.

These ICE officers were attached to a special unit assigned to targeting "fugitive aliens." The officers told an immigration judge that they had reason to detain based upon voluntary admissions by individuals that they were not present in the U.S. legally. However, footage from cameras showed that explanation held little water; few, if any, of the persons arrested spoke with officers before they were captured. Also, officers have provided a different account to the internal investigators.

The officers' supervisor, John D. Alderman, then acting field office director of ICE's Baltimore Office of Detention and Removal Operations, told his team that morning to "go out and get more aliens" because he was upset that a night of work had only netted a handful of arrests. The unit had been under pressure to make its annual quota of 1,000 arrests per team.

ICE's National Fugitive Operations Program, which has cost taxpayers $625 million since 2003, is meant to hunt suspected terrorists and dangerous criminals who have evaded a deportation order. But rather than identify and target fugitives, these teams have been apprehending tens of thousands of immigrants who have not evaded a deportation order or committed a crime. A Migration Policy Institute report also reveals a dramatic leap in arrests of immigrants who were neither fugitives nor criminals in 2006 and 2007 after officers were permitted to count non-fugitives toward their quota if such detainees were encountered in the course of an operation.

The arbitrary detention of anyone by government agents not only violates the Fourth Amendment, but is completely anathema to the nation's founding principles. This episode demonstrates how arrest quotas drive ICE to substitute arbitrary, mass arrests for detailed investigations that might lead to the apprehension of actual "fugitive aliens." Moreover, it shows how ICE has been transformed into a blunt instrument that terrorizes whole communities.

Song of the Day:

"In many a time, in many a land,
With many a gun in many a hand,
They came by the night, they came by the day,
Came with their guns to take us away . . .

With their knock on the door, knock on the door.
Here they come to take one more,
One more."

- Phil Ochs, "Knock on the Door"