Is the Department of Homeland Security going after the wrong “criminal aliens?”

Is the Department of Homeland Security going after the wrong “criminal aliens?”

LatinaLista — One of the hopes the Latino electorate had of the Obama administration was that Obama would do away with the punitive measures of illegal immigration enforcement started during the Bush years.


One of the most egregious tactics for detaining and deporting undocumented immigrants is the use by local law enforcement of what is known as the 287(g) program. The 287(g), which empowers local law enforcement to act as federal officers in detaining undocumented immigrants and hold them over for deportation proceedings, has been the subject of much debate since lax oversight by the Department of Homeland Security allowed law enforcement officers, like Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, to abuse the 287(g) program.

As Latina Lista noted in an earlier post, such abuse of the program has led to racial profiling and the intimidation of people who "look" the stereotype of an undocumented immigrant.

It was widely believed, given the Obama administration's prior actions in getting tough with DHS officers who didn't follow protocol in implementing work site raids, that the program would be suspended. However, the opposite has resulted.

Offering stronger oversight measures, the DHS has actually expanded the program. Now, there are 67 state and local law enforcement officers who have partnered with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to find and deport undocumented immigrants.

ICE attributes the removal of approximately 24,000 undocumented immigrants because of the 247(g) program. Because one of the goals of the 287(g) was apprehending those undocumented immigrants who were violent criminals, federal officials credit the program for being successful in that arena.

In fact, because of the 287(g), federal officials say that 48% more criminal aliens have been identified so far this year as was identified in 2008.

That's a huge leap which leads many to believe that the government's definition of a criminal alien may not be totally accurate.

Case in point: Last week, federal immigration agents arrested over 1,000 people they identified as gang members. By their own admission, they concentrated on only foreign-born.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said Thursday that the arrests were focused on the foreign-born, although U.S. citizens were arrested, too...

Nationally, about 1,500 of those arrested were described as "gang members, associates or those otherwise criminally charged."

ICE said 905 of the suspects face criminal charges, including attempted murder, aggravated assault, drug and firearms violations and charges of re-entry into the U.S. after deportation. The other half face administrative immigration offenses, and a third of those arrested are U.S. citizens, ICE officials said of the operation, which included other federal and state agencies.

As one longtime researcher of gangs noted, the federal government has a bad habit of lumping everyone in the same pool and giving them the same label.

"I am no lover of gangs ... but I am also skeptical of a lot of ICE's claims," said Tom Diaz, the author of a book on transnational Latino gangs and a senior policy analyst for the D.C.-based Violence Policy Center.

"The majority of people swept up have been just ordinary, undocumented members," he said. "Given the past track record of just pumping up the numbers, I would really want to examine their numbers closely."

What would the government gain from inflating the numbers -- a couple of things: Justification for their methods and numerical proof that their methods are working.

The 287(g), along with the ICE campaign looking for gang members, run the risk of misidentifying some undocumented as "criminal aliens" or "gang members" when their only crime may be they re-entered the country after being deported.

Considering that a good percentage, and I don't have the exact numbers, of undocumented re-enter illegally to reunite with families, seems disingenuous and downright deceptive of the Department of Homeland Security to label these people all as hardened criminals out to kill Americans.

They don't have to word it like that. It's sufficient that they have planted that assumption in people's minds by calling them criminal aliens and purposely not making the distinction between the true violent criminals and those who just re-entered the country without a passport or visa.

It's a big difference and shows just how insecure the Department of Homeland Security is with Washington's reception of their tactics that programs designed to get the true hard-core criminal immigrants off our streets are still rounding up immigrants whose only crime is that they don't have the proper paperwork to be here.

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