Report: Staffing issues risk deportation goals
US won’t be able to manage mounting cases, analysis says
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ICE has “overwhelming caseloads,” its records are “likely inaccurate” and its deportation policies and procedures “are outdated and unclear,” said a sharply critical report released Thursday by the Inspector General at the Department of Homeland Security.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.”
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.