De­por­ta­tion pledge hits a bot­tle­neck

Over­whelmed staff at im­mi­gra­tion agency can’t keep pace with Trump’s crack­down plans, re­port says.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Joseph Tan­fani

WASH­ING­TON — U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment, ham­pered by poor or­ga­ni­za­tion and an over­worked staff, will have trou­ble keep­ing up with the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s plans to ramp up de­por­ta­tions of peo­ple in the coun­try il­le­gally, gov­ern­ment in­spec­tors have con­cluded.

ICE has “over­whelm­ing caseloads,” its records are “likely in­ac­cu­rate” and its de­por­ta­tion poli­cies and pro­ce­dures “are out­dated and un­clear,” said a re­port re­leased Thurs­day by the in­spec­tor gen­eral of the Home­land Se­cu­rity Depart­ment.

“ICE is al­most cer­tainly not de­port­ing all the aliens who could be de­ported and will likely not be able to keep up with the grow­ing num­ber of de­portable aliens,” the 19page re­port con­cludes.

The harsh as­sess­ment is the lat­est dash of cold re­al­ity for Pres­i­dent Trump, who was swept into Wash­ing­ton promis­ing vastly tougher en­force­ment of im­mi­gra­tion laws, in­clud­ing more re­movals, thou­sands more Bor­der Pa­trol agents and de­por­ta­tion of­fi­cers, and con­struc­tion of a for­mi­da­ble wall on the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der.

Congress faces a loom­ing dead­line to fund the fed­eral gov­ern­ment af­ter mem­bers re­turn next week, and the pro­posed wall and other new bor­der se­cu­rity mea­sures prob­a­bly won’t get any­thing ex­tra in this round of spend­ing. Trump had asked Congress to pro­vide an ad­di­tional $5 bil­lion this year.

A vast surge of new hir­ing is also prob­lem­atic. Al­though Trump has signed an ex­ec­u­tive or­der di­rect­ing the Bor­der Pa­trol and ICE to hire 15,000 more agents and of­fi­cers to boost en­force­ment, that goal will be nearly im­pos­si­ble to achieve any­time soon.

An in­ter­nal memo in Fe­bru­ary from Kevin McAleenan, act­ing di­rec­tor of Cus­toms and Bor­der

Pro­tec­tion, re­vealed that Bor­der Pa­trol was able to vet and hire only about 40 agents a month last year de­spite ag­gres­sive ef­forts to stream­line the hir­ing process.

Re­ports this year that Cus­toms and Bor­der Pa­trol might stop us­ing poly­graph tests, in­tended to fer­ret out un­qual­i­fied agents, drew a storm of crit­i­cism. So did the rea­son: Two out of three new ap­pli­cants had failed the lie de­tec­tor.

The agency first re­quired poly­graph tests for prospec­tive em­ploy­ees in 2012 af­ter an Obama-era hir­ing surge led to a sharp in­crease in agents get­ting charged or ar­rested for bribery, drug smug­gling and other crimes on or near the bor­der.

More­over, the Bor­der Pa­trol — the na­tion’s largest fed­eral law en­force­ment agency — has more than 2,000 jobs empty even be­fore a Trump-led hir­ing surge. The force fell be­low 20,000 agents this year for the first time since 2009, when Pres­i­dent Obama came to of­fice.

Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary John F. Kelly said Sun­day that Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion would con­tinue to use the poly­graph as a hir­ing tool, al­though he added that the agency was con­sid­er­ing changes to make the process less “ar­du­ous.”

Kelly, a re­tired Marine gen­eral, took the of­fen­sive in a speech at Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity on Tues­day, blam­ing poor morale in his depart­ment on what he called “point­less bu­reau­cracy” and “dis­re­spect and con­tempt” from po­lit­i­cal lead­ers.

“If law­mak­ers do not like the laws that we en­force ... then they should have the courage and the skill to change those laws,” he said. “Other­wise, they should shut up and sup­port the men and women on the front lines.”

Un­der the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, the Bor­der Pa­trol and ICE have ramped up ar­rests of peo­ple in the coun­try il­le­gally —– 21,362 from mid-Jan­uary to midMarch, com­pared with about 16,100 for the same pe­riod last year.

Re­movals by ICE reached a peak of 409,000 a year un­der Pres­i­dent Obama be­fore plum­met­ing to 235,000 in 2015 and 240,000 last year.

In the first three months of this year, ICE has de­ported 54,936 peo­ple, a rate that ap­pears to put the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion on track to re­move fewer peo­ple than the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion.

On Thurs­day, Atty. Gen. Jeff Ses­sions boasted dur­ing a visit to El Paso of making progress, say­ing the num­ber of peo­ple try­ing to cross the bor­der il­le­gally had fallen to the low­est in 17 years.

“For those that still seek to vi­o­late our laws and en­ter the coun­try il­le­gally, let me be very clear: Don’t come. When you are caught, you will be de­tained, ad­ju­di­cated and de­ported,” he said.

Ses­sions said he had or­dered each of the 94 U.S. at­tor­neys of­fices to make crim­i­nal im­mi­gra­tion en­force­ment a pri­or­ity, and said each now has a “bor­der se­cu­rity co­or­di­na­tor” who is per­son­ally re­spon­si­ble for over­see­ing im­mi­gra­tion en­force­ment.

Af­ter tak­ing of­fice, Ses­sions or­dered nearly ev­ery U.S. at­tor­ney in the coun­try to re­sign. He has yet to nom­i­nate any re­place­ments to the Se­nate, which must con­firm each one, so it’s un­clear when fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors will start to change their fo­cus.

Ses­sions also said he had stream­lined the hir­ing of im­mi­gra­tion judges, and that the Jus­tice Depart­ment would add 50 such judges this year and 75 next year to help ad­ju­di­cate asy­lum claims, de­por­ta­tion or­ders and other dis­putes.

That will help but hardly solve the prob­lem. There are now 250 im­mi­gra­tion judges, and a back­log of 542,000 cases in im­mi­gra­tion courts.

More­over, the lat­est re­port from the in­spec­tor gen­eral’s of­fice at Home­land Se­cu­rity said ICE agents, who are sup­posed to iden­tify, de­tain and de­port peo­ple in the coun­try il­le­gally, are ille­quipped to mon­i­tor those on their caseloads.

ICE tries to keep track of about 2.2 mil­lion foreigners who are not in jail, in­clud­ing more than 368,000 con­victed crim­i­nals, the re­port said. Some of­fi­cers have more than 10,000 cases, the re­port said, crit­i­ciz­ing agency of­fi­cials for not man­ag­ing the prob­lem.

“Al­though many ICE de­por­ta­tion of­fi­cers … re­ported over­whelm­ing caseloads and dif­fi­culty ful­fill­ing their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, ICE does not collect and an­a­lyze data” that could be used to ease the pres­sure.

In one of­fice, ac­cord­ing to the re­port, of­fi­cers com­plained that they had to man­age so many thou­sands of cases that they couldn’t keep track of some mi­grants who had been flagged as risks to na­tional se­cu­rity.

The re­port faulted ICE for in­suf­fi­cient train­ing and fail­ing to is­sue “up-to­date, com­pre­hen­sive and ac­ces­si­ble” guide­lines on de­por­ta­tion. Re­solv­ing the fail­ures, it said, “may re­quire sig­nif­i­cant time and re­sources.”

“Th­ese man­age­ment de­fi­cien­cies and un­re­solved ob­sta­cles make it dif­fi­cult for ICE to de­port aliens ex­pe­di­tiously,” it said.

The in­spec­tor gen­eral’s of­fice launched the re­view last year af­ter Jean Jac­ques, a Haitian na­tional, was re­leased from ICE cus­tody in 2015 even though he had been con­victed of at­tempted mur­der and given a fi­nal or­der of de­por­ta­tion. While on the street, he killed an­other man.

ICE said it agreed with the re­port’s rec­om­men­da­tions and that it was pri­or­i­tiz­ing de­por­ta­tion ef­forts to fo­cus on those who pose the great­est threats.

The agency “re­mains com­mit­ted to im­ple­ment­ing safe­guards to en­sure that its de­por­ta­tion op­er­a­tions are ex­e­cuted in a way that pro­motes pub­lic safety and pro­tects our com­mu­ni­ties,” Jen­nifer D. Elzea, an act­ing press sec­re­tary, said Thurs­day.

Randy Capps, re­search di­rec­tor at the Mi­gra­tion Pol­icy In­sti­tute, a non­par­ti­san think tank, said the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion may have promised more than it can de­liver given the sys­temic prob­lems.

“Sooner or later, they are go­ing to have to nar­row down [de­por­ta­tion pri­or­i­ties] or the sys­tem is go­ing to be over­whelmed,” he said. “That’s cer­tainly what the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion found. There’s a cer­tain size past which the sys­tem is very hard to man­age ef­fi­ciently.”

Pho­to­graphs by Brian van der Brug Los Angeles Times

FED­ERAL AGENTS ar­rest a green-card holder in El Monte. A gov­ern­ment re­port says the agents are ille­quipped to mon­i­tor their caseloads so they can iden­tify, de­tain and de­port peo­ple in the coun­try il­le­gally.

JORGE FIELD, an ICE fugi­tive op­er­a­tions of­fi­cial, talks with agents in Downey. The agency tries to mon­i­tor more than 368,000 con­victed crim­i­nals, a re­port says.

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