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Government Ads Nudge Immigrants To Self-Deport


I'm Michel Martin and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. Just ahead, one of the most important broadcasting pioneers you probably never heard of. He passed away recently and we want to tell you more about him. And, young, black and HIV-positive - one young woman's story.

But first, we want to talk about this country's ongoing struggle over illegal immigration. There's a new twist. If you listened to Spanish-language radio or read the papers in some U.S. cities in the last couple of weeks, you might have heard about a new program from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. The agency has started a pilot program to encourage illegal immigrants to voluntarily turn themselves in for deportation. The pilot program is called "Schedule Departure," and it is scheduled to continue through August 22nd.

We wanted to know more about this idea. In a few minutes we're going to speak with the head of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and a lawyer who hosts a radio show on immigration issues. But first, we want to hear from ICE. With us is James T. Hayes Jr. He's acting director for ICE's Office of Detention and Removal Operations. Mr. Hayes, thank you so much for speaking with us.

Mr. JAMES T. HAYES (Acting Director, ICE, Office of Detention and Removal Operations): Thank you, Michel.

MARTIN: What's the logic behind this program? Who's eligible for it?

Mr. HAYES: This program is available to non-criminal fugitive aliens, those aliens who have a final order of removal, who do not have a criminal conviction. And they can voluntarily surrender themselves to ICE and we will work with them to allow them some time to schedule their removal from the United States. It provides an alternative to what many have criticized us for, which is the way in which we conduct fugitive operations, which are targeted enforcement actions at people's residences, places of business or other places that we can find them. And we think that this population is an appropriate population to allow us to determine whether or not this would be an effective use of our resources and would provide an effective alternative to the way that we conduct our current operations in limited circumstances.

MARTIN: I think it's hard for people to understand why, if you take the risk of sneaking over the border and escape detection, that you turn yourself in. So this is for people who have already had contact with the authorities, who've already been - who've met a judge and who've been told, you have to leave. Is that it?

Mr. HAYES: Correct. These are individuals who have had due process, they've been ordered removed by an immigration judge. In some instances, they've appealed those decisions to the board of immigration appeals or to the circuit courts and those appeals have been dismissed.

I think the reason that some people may take advantage of this is, certainly, over the last several years, our enforcement efforts have increased. We've received increased appropriations and resources from Congress, and our Fugitive Operations Program has expanded and become more successful. Just last year, we arrested more than 30,000 individuals through our Fugitive Operations Program. So far this year, we've made over 28,000 arrests already, with about a month and a half to go on the fiscal year.

Certainly, one thing that this does is it allows people to have some measure of control over when they're removed from the United States. And the bottom line is either we show up at your door or your place of business, or you can come to us and have a little bit of control.

MARTIN: The program began August 5th and it's scheduled to end August 22nd, although I understand that you may continue it. Now, the ICE's figures say there are 572,000 ICE fugitives, the vast majority of whom, 475,000, don't have criminal histories. Of those people, only six apparently have taken of advantage of the program. What does that say?

Mr. HAYES: Well, the program has been in effect for, you know, about eight days, you know, this is the ninth - excuse me, this is the eighth day of the program. Six is six more than a lot of advocacy groups thought would take advantage. What we found from those individuals is that they've appeared at our offices, some with tickets, with valid passports, ready to return. They understand that immigration enforcement is a reality in this country and that they have this opportunity or we could show up when, you know, perhaps they least expect it.

MARTIN: But why wouldn't these people have been leaving anyway if they already had deportation orders? Why wouldn't they be leaving anyway? You're saying these are people who had deportation orders and then disappeared, and in essence, this is a way just to avoid incarceration, that's the benefit.

Mr. HAYES: Correct. Absolutely. These individuals will not be detained. Generally, when we conduct fugitive operations, it's on the government's terms. We make the arrest and we schedule removal from the United States as quickly as possible, sometimes, in fact, even the same day. With this program we're giving these individuals that are eligible up to 90 days to schedule their affairs, to, you know, basically make their own arrangements for removal. And we think that this is certainly a much more convenient way for these people to have that removal order, you know, affected, when in fact they know that we are on the streets everyday searching for them.

We're not conducting this program in lieu of regularly scheduled operations. Our 104 fugitive operations teams are still out on the streets everyday searching for fugitives.

MARTIN: But the argument, I think, that some people would make is, by your own account, there are almost 600,000 people who have scheduled deportation orders. Most of them, the vast majority, half a million people, have no criminal involvement other than the fact they violated an immigration order. Some people would argue, why aren't your - isn't your focus the 100,000 people who have some criminal history? Why isn't the focus of your operations on them, since by your own account, most of these people's only crime is to be here?

Mr. HAYES: Well, our focus is on them, and I think that's the point of this program. This program is very minimally resource intensive. As I've said, our teams are actively working cases. We prioritize criminal fugitive cases, and those are the individuals that we're most interested in finding. They're not eligible for this program. And really, we don't see the harm in offering an alternative to those individuals that don't have a criminal record.

There's really a minimal cost expenditure, less than a 100,000 dollars for this program, out of a 218-million dollar budget for fugitive operations. So we think that, you know, in terms of a pilot, this was a good idea.

MARTIN: And finally, what do you say to those who argue that the whole question of whether an action is humane or not, that's really a matter of how it's done rather than the what - you know, knocking down people's doors, dragging people out in their underwear in front of their children. That's really - this issue doesn't - this program doesn't speak to that. It speaks to the questions that people have about being humane or not humane is the way that law enforcement is conducting itself, not these policies itself. What do you say to that?

Mr. HAYES: Well, first of all, I have to state that we don't - we don't drag people out of their homes...

MARTIN: Well, with all due respect, sir. We've interviewed people who have - children of people who've seen their relatives taken out of their homes in their underwear. We've - in Minnesota, for example. So with all due respect, that matter is a matter that's been in the public domain, so...

Mr. HAYES: Well, it maybe a matter that's up for debate, but I haven't seen any evidence that we do that. There may be allegations of that and we certainly will take those seriously. But the fact of the matter is that we do conduct fugitive operations humanely. One of the things that I think has been discouraging has been the reaction from some advocacy groups who have ridiculed this program. These same people who don't want us to enforce laws at people's residences, they don't want us to enforce the law at businesses, they don't want us to work with local law enforcement to enforce the law, are now ridiculing this program which we think is a convenient compromise.

And so I think we're finding out that some people just don't want the law enforced and they're not really against the method itself.

MARTIN: James T. Hayes is the acting director for ICE's Office of Detention and Removal. He joined us by phone from his office in Washington D.C. Mr. Hayes, thank you so much for speaking with us.

Mr. HAYES: Thank you, Michel. My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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