Antics of illegals, home countries make deportations hard to carry out
An illegal immigrant was ordered deported in 2013, and ICE had a flight lined up to take him to Pakistan. But he refused to board the plane, thwarting the effort.
When ICE tried again, the man claimed he was actually from Somalia and renounced his Pakistani citizenship. But he refused to provide enough information to authorities to arrange his deportation to Somalia, blocking his deportation again.
After more back-and-forth, the man finally agreed to his Pakistani citizenship, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement once again asked the government there to take him back. According to a Homeland Security Department inspector general’s review, he had been in custody four years.
The inspector general’s audit, released this month, showed that while arresting illegal immigrants may be a challenge, getting them to leave the U.S. can be even tougher as officers confront balky countries overseas, legal appeals at home and the migrants’ shenanigans.
ICE sets a goal of trying to deport people within 90 days of taking them into custody. But of 13,217 people detained as of Dec. 13, 2017, 23 percent had exhausted the full 90 days. Three months after that, nearly half were still in detention. Some, like the Pakistani man, wait years.
“We give them too many bites at the apple,” said Jessica Vaughan, an analyst at the Center for Immigration Studies who reviewed the inspector general’s report.
“Without a doubt, ICE now faces some significant challenges to removing even the most unsympathetic cases,” Ms. Vaughan said, “with the biggest problem being that it is too easy to abuse the overly generous due process that our courts have provided to deportable aliens.”
Investigators singled out one case in which a Mexican migrant used the regular court system to challenge a deportation order by an immigration judge. The migrant lost at the circuit court, and ICE moved the person to a staging location in preparation for deportation.
But the new location was in a different court circuit, and the migrant filed a new court challenge. He lost his case with the district court and then went to the new circuit’s court of appeals. According to the inspector general’s review, the migrant had been detained for more than three years at a cost of more than $36,000 per year.
Those sorts of legal delays accounted for more than half of migrants’ extended stays in detention.
The second-biggest hiccup was trying to get foreign countries to accept their own citizens, which accounted for 31 percent of the delays, according to the audit.
Investigators found a staggering 116 jurisdictions were deemed either uncooperative or “at risk” of failing to cooperate with U.S. deportation authorities at some point from July 2015 to May 2018. They ranged from regular thorns in the side of U.S. policy, such as China and Cuba, to usually friendly nations such as the United Kingdom, Sweden and Norway.
If delays reach six months, then the migrants are usually released back into the U.S.
Investigators said that happened in about 40 percent of the cases in which governments were recalcitrant.
Even so, that is likely a major improvement from the Obama years. In July 2015, ICE listed 85 countries as uncooperative or at risk. By May last year, that was down to 33 countries.
Ms. Vaughan called that “one of the relatively unheralded successes of the Trump administration” and credited Homeland Security and the State Department for being willing to punish bad-actor countries.
Still, the inspector general said the situation could be better.
Investigators said the yardsticks ICE uses to judge other countries’ cooperation — and to recommend that the State Department slap visa sanctions on those who don’t comply — are “not completely reliable.” ICE also doesn’t have a coherent method for figuring out when to end visa sanctions.
For example, Guinea and Sierra Leone had some visas stripped in 2017 despite being listed only as “at risk” at the time. Both countries have improved and earned their way into the realm of cooperative but remain under sanctions.
Meanwhile, constant bad actors China, Cuba, Iran and Vietnam, regularly deemed fully uncooperative, have not been sanctioned.
In one case, a Cuban migrant was in detention and regularly attacked other migrants and the facility’s staff. He had mental health issues, according to diagnoses.
Because Cuba wouldn’t issue documents to take the man back, ICE eventually just released him.
In another case, a convicted sex offender from Eritrea had arrived in the U.S. as a child and didn’t have any identity documents. He also didn’t speak Eritrean. When the Eritrean government interviewed him, it refused to acknowledge him as a citizen, forcing ICE to release him into the U.S.
The audit also found that ICE struggles to figure out the most efficient ways to deport people, picking between charter flights and commercial airlines. Some charters for high-risk deportees can take months to arrange, leading to more delays.
Migrants can thwart deportation by lying about their citizenship or refusing to help request travel documents from their home countries.
One Indian man in the inspector general’s audit said he didn’t mind staying in ICE custody because he preferred to be locked up in the U.S. rather than go back to India. ICE finally obtained documents from India but then encountered flight delays. The man had been in custody more than three years at the time of the audit.
The inspector general studied the population in ICE detention, or what those in the industry call the “detained docket.”
Those cases are supposed to move much faster than the non-detained docket, where migrants are free in the communities, and it can take years for their cases to be decided. They often disappear into the shadows and ignore the courts altogether.
In its official response to the report, ICE said most of the hurdles that the inspector general identified are out of the agency’s control, such as relying on foreign countries or the legal system.
But ICE promised to better manage its own staff levels, improve training of deportation officers and come up with a better scheduling system to streamline removals.
ICE also said it will roll out a system next year that tracks how well the agency is doing in getting travel documents to facilitate deportation.