Surge in mi­gra­tion over­whelms ICE of­fi­cers

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY STEPHEN DINAN

De­por­ta­tion of­fi­cers are cut­ting loose over 1,000 im­mi­grant fam­ily mem­bers who are liv­ing il­le­gally in the U.S. per day, set­ting them free into bor­der states as the surge of mi­gra­tions over­whelms the gov­ern­ment’s abil­ity to han­dle them, of­fi­cials re­vealed.

Over the last three months, about 107,000 fam­ily mem­bers were caught at the bor­der and then re­leased, with an­kle mon­i­tor­ing de­vices or check-in sched­ules and the of­ten vain hope that they will show up for their court hear­ings and de­por­ta­tion. Worse yet, of­fi­cials say, they have had to pull de­por­ta­tion of­fi­cers off duty in pris­ons and jails, where they were ar­rest­ing crim­i­nal mi­grants, and de­ployed them to the bor­der to help the Bor­der Patrol re­lease all the fam­i­lies.

“The cur­rent cri­sis that is oc­cur­ring at the south­west bor­der, the num­bers that we col­lec­tively as a na­tion are see­ing … is ab­so­lutely un­prece­dented,” said Nathalie R. Asher, act­ing ex­ec­u­tive as­so­ciate di­rec­tor for Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment’s de­por­ta­tion di­vi­sion.

As de­por­ta­tion of­fi­cers have been pulled from their reg­u­lar du­ties, ICE ar­rests have plum­meted 12 per­cent, fall­ing from more than 39,300 dur­ing the fi­nal three months of 2017 to just 34,546 dur­ing the same months last year.

Yet de­por­ta­tions ac­tu­ally in­creased, from 60,572 to 66,549.

That’s be­cause ICE, in ad­di­tion to de­port­ing peo­ple it catches in the in­te­rior of the U.S., also de­ports those caught by Bor­der Patrol agents or stopped by Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion of­fi­cers.

And those agen­cies are in the mid­dle of an un­prece­dented surge as chil­dren and fam­i­lies flock to the U.S. from Cen­tral Amer­ica.

Bor­der Patrol ar­rests nearly dou­bled, climb­ing from about 28,000 a month at the end of 2017 to more than 50,000 a month at the end of 2018.

The rate is still ris­ing. Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary Kirst­jen Nielsen said that bor­der au­thor­i­ties are on track this month to snare nearly 100,000 im­mi­grants liv­ing in the U.S. il­le­gally.

ICE and CBP aren’t pre­pared for those kinds of num­bers. At the turn of the cen­tury, the over­all ap­pre­hen­sion num­bers were higher, but they were al­most all adult men from Mex­ico who could be im­me­di­ately re­turned across the bor­der. The cur­rent flow of chil­dren and fam­i­lies from Cen­tral Amer­ica is more dif­fi­cult. Of those caught in 2017, 98 per­cent are still in the U.S., of­fi­cials say.

“The band­width is get­ting stretched,” Ms. Asher told re­porters.

That also means ICE’s fa­cil­i­ties are bulging. ICE re­ported hold­ing 49,960 mi­grants in cus­tody on March 2, and for the fis­cal year was av­er­ag­ing 46,766 peo­ple per day — a record level since the agency was cre­ated in 2003.

Of those de­tained on March 2, 34,853 were con­sid­ered “manda­tory” de­tainees based on the law.

Of those ICE did de­port late last year, 66 per­cent had crim­i­nal con­vic­tions or faced crim­i­nal charges. The rest came to ICE’s at­ten­tion be­cause they were out of sta­tus.

By con­trast, the crim­i­nal rate of de­por­tees was 87 per­cent dur­ing the fi­nal months of 2015, dur­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Un­der pres­sure from im­mi­grant-rights groups, Pres­i­dent Obama’s team is­sued memos telling ICE of­fi­cers not to bother with most im­mi­grants who were in the U.S. il­le­gally un­less they had amassed sig­nif­i­cant crim­i­nal records.

Pres­i­dent Trump’s team says it still pri­or­i­tizes crim­i­nals, but there is no longer a get-out-of-jail-free card for other im­mi­grants who are liv­ing in the U.S. il­le­gally.

Yet of­fi­cials at the Na­tional ICE Coun­cil, the la­bor union for ICE of­fi­cers, warned in a let­ter to Mr. Trump this month that they’re be­ing forced to over­see a mas­sive “catch-an­drelease” op­er­a­tion at the bor­der.

They said ICE of­fi­cers are pulled from duty on ter­ror­ism task forces and fugi­tive op­er­a­tions teams to help out at the bor­der.

One par­tic­u­lar gripe is that they are asked to ride along with Bor­der Patrol agents tak­ing the im­mi­grants who were in the U.S. il­le­gally to bus sta­tions, and then the ICE of­fi­cers are told they have to be the ones to ac­tu­ally open the van doors and re­lease them. The ICE union of­fi­cials said the prac­tice ap­peared to be a way for the Bor­der Patrol to say it wasn’t the agency re­leas­ing the im­mi­grants.

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