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Rodrigo Abd/AP
Illegal immigrants on their way to the United States wait for the train to leave in Ixtepec,
southern Mexico. U.S. and Mexican authorities told the Associated Press they have seen
a dramatic drop in the number of Central American immigrants detained, indicating that
factors in Mexico, not just U.S. border security, are contributing to the slowdown in
illegal immigration to the United States. (AP)

Self-Deportation Is Government’s Latest Immigration Push

August 15, 2008 06:02 AM
by Liz Colville
Government attempts to deport illegal immigrants now include Spanish-language newspaper and radio advertisements that encourage the illegal immigrants to self-deport.

Encouraging Self-Deportation

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The new ads, appearing in Spanish-language newspapers and on radio stations, were produced by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and are part of a pilot program by ICE called the Scheduled Departure Program. The program hopes to accelerate deportations of “non-criminal fugitive aliens,” who have received orders of removal and do not have criminal convictions. ICE’s James T. Hayes told NPR that this program “provides an alternative” to the way ICE has been conducting deportations, which include much-criticized raids in the home and workplace.

ICE is “one of the strongest, most powerful police organizations within the executive branch. You have no rights” once under supervision or arrest by ICE, according to Jay Marks, an immigration lawyer and Spanish-language radio host who spoke about ICE’s new advertisement with NPR. Hayes, the head of ICE’s Office of Detention and Removal, says self-deportation will help the qualified group of illegal immigrants, numbering around 457,000, to avoid incarceration.

The ads are being run in Santa Ana, San Diego, Chicago, Phoenix and Charlotte, N.C. until August 22. But they “drew no takers” on August 12, the date of their first appearance. “You would have to be crazy—who would want to turn themselves in?" said Angel Martinez, an illegal immigrant interviewed by the Associated Press August 13.
Aside from the fact that its mission seems implausible, critics of the pilot program may argue that it does not address the “how” of the department’s approach, only the “what,” as NPR’s Michelle Martin puts it. Instead of exercising a different approach to raids and incarceration—some accounts have described them as violent and embarrassing—or streamlining the deportation process so the waiting period is shorter, ICE has decided to create an entirely new program.

ICE has come under fire for incidents unrelated to the pilot program, like the May 16 arrest of nearly 400 illegal immigrants at a meatpacking plant in Iowa, what the New York Times calls the “largest criminal enforcement operation ever carried out by immigration authorities at a workplace.” The events following the arrests were described in detail by Erik Camayd-Freixas, a federal interpreter.
ICE’s initiatives are seen as some of the only implementations of President Bush’s immigration policy, which was symbolized by a landmark bill that died in the Senate in June 2007. The bill called for the eventual legalization of the country’s approximately 12 million illegal immigrants, but also stipulated “tough border enforcement measures and a crackdown on employers of illegal immigrants.”

Background: U.S. Immigration Policy

The Immigration Reform Act of 1965, sponsored by Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., was an important milestone in U.S. immigration policy, in effect eliminating the “national origins” quota system enacted in 1921 and significantly “liberalizing” U.S. immigration policy, according to the Center for Immigration Studies.

Following this, 1970s immigration levels soared, with arrests of illegal immigrants numbering 766,000 in 1975 alone. The number of illegal immigrants reached a then-record high of 1.2 million in 1985, and in 1986 Congress granted amnesty to some 3.1 million with the Immigration Reform and Control Act.
In the 1990s, an increase in legal immigration and amnesty for relatives of those covered in the 1986 act occurred, and efforts to curb immigration numbers were defeated until 2005, according to the nonpartisan Americans for Immigration Control’s chronology of U.S. immigration policy from 1965 to 2006.

In 2005, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff introduced the Secure Border Initiative, an attempt to curb the high rates of illegal immigrants crossing into the U.S. According to the ICE Web site, the SBI “focuses on interior enforcement, and on strengthening efforts to combat document fraud and on monitoring the worksite,” as well as on “border operations.”

In June 2007, the immigration bill intended as the “most dramatic overhaul” to U.S. immigration laws in decades died in the Senate. The bill, the Washington Post wrote, “would have coupled tough border enforcement measures and a crackdown on employers of illegal immigrants with a pathway to citizenship for 12 million illegal immigrants, a new guest-worker system for foreigners seeking entry and dramatic changes to the system of legal migration.” It was seen as a large blow to President Bush’s immigration policy.
Studies have found that the number of illegal immigrants is now on the decline. The Center for Immigration Studies’ July 2008 report finds that the number “hit a peak” in August 2007 and declined 11 percent through to May 2008. The CIS speculates that a 2007 debate in Congress over legalizing illegal immigrants helped the illegal immigration rate to swell, and that the failure to pass the legislation, as well as an impending recession, has caused the numbers to fall.

Opinions & Analysis: The ICE Approach to illegal immigration

Angel Martinez, who has been living and working in the U.S. for 15 years, told AP, “Nobody wants to go back. We risked everything to get here for a reason.” Wendy Chavez of Anaheim, Calif., agreed: “Are people actually doing it? I really find it hard to believe.” But Robin Baker of ICE’s San Diego headquarters defends the program. “We understand the impact it has on them when we knock on their doors early in the morning and take them out of their homes. This allows them to leave on their own terms.”
ICE’s prior efforts have suggested that immigrants do not get fair representation when brought to charges. In a video interview about the Iowa meatpacking arrests, interpreter Erik Camayd-Freixas describes witnessing the immigrants brought into the court room shackled and given the “awkward” charge of “aggravated identity theft” alongside the more standard charge of social security fraud. In an essay republished on the Times site, Camayd-Freixas also claims that most of the immigrants, many of which were Guatemalan villagers, “did not fully understand the criminal charges they were facing or the rights most of them had waived.”

Reference: U.S. Immigration guide; candidates’ stances

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