Opinion: Checking Operation Cross-Check – Is Deporting “Criminal Aliens” Making Us Safer?
Immigration and Customs Enforcement is touting its contribution to public safety and national security due to a week-long national sweep in which it arrested 2,901 immigrants with criminal records. The agency’s director, John Morton, declared: “They are not the kind of people we want walking our streets.”
It is often hard to critique what ICE is doing – or is not doing – as they do not release specific information about their enforcement operations. There are a few things, however, that we do know, and are worth discussing.
A prior felony conviction does not make you an immediate danger to society.
About 1600 of the 2901 people ICE arrested had been convicted of felonies. Nearly all of them had already served their time for these felonies, and thus had paid their debt to society. There are about 5 million people in the United States who have felony convictions. Most of them are walking our streets right now, because they have already served their time. Having paid for their crimes, they are back with their families and trying to piece their lives together – not an easy feat with a felony on their records. The 1600 people ICE arrested last week are no different, except for the fact that they were born in another country and thus, under U.S. laws, merit deportation in addition to a criminal conviction.
Many “criminal aliens” have not been convicted of violent crimes.
In U.S. law, felony convictions include illegally re-entering the United States, possession of illegal drugs, and a host of other victim-less crimes. ICE does not detail the sorts of crimes the people they arrested last week had been convicted of. However, we do know that, in 2010, relatively few people were deported for violent offenses – 7 percent for assault, 2.5 percent for robbery, and 2 percent for sexual assault. In 2010, the remaining criminal deportees had been convicted of non-violent crimes. It would be informative to see a breakdown for operation cross-check. ICE’s report mentions that 386 of the 2901 had been convicted of the immigration-related crime of illegally re-entering the country. Crossing the border twice to reunite with your family does not make anyone a dangerous person.
Nearly half of the criminal deportees arrested in this operation had been convicted of misdemeanors.
Nearly half of the people arrested – about 1300 – had not been convicted of felonies, but of misdemeanors, for crimes such as theft, forgery, and driving while intoxicated. Misdemeanors often do not carry any jail time, and include traffic crimes in addition to other relatively minor offenses. How many of these “criminal deportees” had been convicted of minor offenses?
Many of those arrested were legal permanent residents.
The ICE report indicates that the people arrested were a mix of undocumented migrants and legally present immigrants. How many were legal permanent residents? Legal permanent residents often have been in the United States for decades, and deportation is a drastic measure that takes them away from their families. Joselo, for example, is a U.S. Army veteran, son of a U.S. citizen, father of seven U.S. citizen children, and legal permanent resident who was deported for $10 of crack cocaine. How many of the criminal aliens captured last week were like Joselo and had lived for decades in the United States?
Many of these criminal deportees will leave behind U.S. citizen family members.
In recent years, deportations have led to massive family separation. 1.6 million U.S. citizens have been separated from their spouses and children due to deportation since 1996. While Mr. Morton may argue that these are not people we want walking our streets, the family members of deportees often feel quite differently.
John Morton openly admits that ICE does not have the resources to deport the ten million undocumented immigrants in the United States. The strategy instead has been to focus ICE’s immense resources on finding and deporting immigrants convicted of crimes. This most recent operation involved 1,900 ICE officers, a fairly extraordinary effort. In addition, it was part of the National Fugitive Operations Program, an ICE effort with a history of spending lots of money with little to show for it.
Deporting criminal aliens brings political capital to its proponents, but those of us who work with immigrants convicted of crimes know that this strategy is not necessarily making the United States a safer place, but definitely is separating families and destroying lives.