Re­port: Staffing is­sues risk de­por­ta­tion goals

US won’t be able to man­age mount­ing cases, anal­y­sis says

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - - NATION & WORLD - By Joseph Tan­fani joseph.tan­fani@la­times.com

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 sharply crit­i­cal re­port re­leased Thurs­day by the In­spec­tor Gen­eral at the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity.

“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 19-page re­port con­cludes.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump 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 bor­der wall.

Congress faces a 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 roundof 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 an­other 15,000 agents and of­fi­cers to boost en­force­ment, that goal will be nearly im­pos­si­ble to achieve any time 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.

Even be­fore a Trump-led hir­ing surge, the Bor­der Pa­trol al­ready has more than 2,000 jobs empty.

Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary John Kelly had said the CBP 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 went on of­fense in a speech Tues­day at Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity, 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.”

So far in the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, the Bor­der Pa­trol and ICE have ramped up ar­rests of un­doc­u­mented mi­grants —– 21,362 from mid-Jan­uary to mid- March, com­pared with about 16,100 for the same pe­riod last year.

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

In the first three months of this year, ICE 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, At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions boasted of the progress dur­ing a visit to El Paso, Tex., 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 nowhas a “bor­der se­cu­rity co­or­di­na­tor” re­spon­si­ble for over­see­ing im­mi­gra­tion en­force­ment.

Ses­sions also said he had stream­lined the hir­ing of im­mi­gra­tion judges and that Jus­tice will add50 such judges this year and 75 next year to help ad­ju­di­cate asy­lum claims, de­por­ta­tion or­ders and other dis­putes. The U.S. has 250 im­mi­gra­tion judges and a back­log of 542,000 cases in im­mi­gra­tion courts.

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.”

JOSE CABEZAS/GETTY-AFP 2008

Im­mi­grants line up with their hands on a bus be­fore be­ing de­ported from Texas. De­por­ta­tions dropped to 240,000 last year af­ter a peak of 409, 000 in the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion.

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