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Chicago Tribune Reports Criminal Immigrants on Radar

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Sunday’s Tribune had an article on the increased focus on tracking down and arresting illegal immigrants:

In an aggressive effort to boost deportations, U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement has begun to increase by nearly 25 percent the number of agents tasked with finding and deporting illegal immigrants with criminal records, pulling 150 officers from desk and backroom jobs to deploy extra fugitive search teams nationwide.

As the 2012 presidential election nears, it’s not surprising for the Obama administration to be concerned with its image on immigration. During the lead-up to the 2008 election, Obama campaigned strongly on his promise to reform U.S. immigration policy. So far, he has done little to keep these promises, and in fact has overseen a dramatic increase in the number of immigrants being deported. Despite Obama’s lack of progress on immigration reform, his likely election challenger Mitt Romney has criticized him for being soft on immigrants and some suspect Obama has stepped up his immigration enforcement to appear tougher:

“Our officers in the field are being told by senior-level managers that this is politically motivated to bump up the numbers during an election year for the Obama administration,” said Chris Crane, president of the National ICE Council, a union that represents about 7,300 ICE employees.

Whether politically motivated or not, ICE has dramatically scaled-up the role of “fugitive operations teams” since eight of them were introduced in 2004. Now there are over 100 such teams, each with a quota to arrest 50 suspects per month. Immigrants targeted for arrest are those that have ignored a final deportation notice or may have committed a crime which makes them eligible for deportation. In addition to pursuing people convicted of felonies, the fugitive operations teams are also arresting people convicted of two or more misdemeanors such as people who have driven without a license or insurance.

Oddly, this push to arrest more immigrants coincides with the expanded use of prosecutorial discretion to ease Immigration Court backlogs, which I wrote about last week. Casting such a wide net for deportable immigrants seems counter productive to the goal of “unclogging” the courts.

The consequences of being swept up by a fugitive operations team can be severe, even for immigrants without a serious criminal history and it’s important to have an experienced immigration attorney by your side to help you navigate the immigration system.