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ICE Records Don't Match Deportation Claims

January 4, 2012 ·

The immigration enforcement arm of the Department of Homeland Security has serious issues getting its legal records to match their prosecutorial actions.

In the rush to try to deport 400,000 people per year, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) might have forgotten to file some paperwork.

ICE's impact is felt in communities across the country, but not seen in their official paperwork. Photo by ICE.The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University has just published a report analyzing case-by-case records provided by Immigration and Customs Enforcement under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The data, provided to TRAC almost two years after it was requested, shows a 34 percent discrepancy between the number of people ICE claimed to have removed and those shown to have been removed by the paperwork.  Overall, TRAC says ICE statements claimed almost five times more individual apprehensions than revealed in the data, as well as 24 times more individuals deported and 34 times more detentions. From TRAC:

In its initial FOIA request in May 2010, TRAC asked for specific information about all individuals who had been arrested, detained, charged, returned or removed from the country for the period beginning October 1, 2004 to date. In its initial and incomplete response, however, ICE so far has only provided TRAC with information through FY 2005. The agency said it would provide detailed information about the more recent years later.

Looking at the small data sample provided by ICE, TRAC’s analysts say that ICE either made exaggerated claims about the number of people who were deported during that time, or they are withholding information on a massive scale. I feel there could be another explanation: armed with the power to conduct massive raids, Bush-era ICE agents thought they could skip some of the paperwork altogether. With ICE unilaterally imposing a $450,000 “FOIA processing fee,” the public might never find what happened in the last few years at ICE. Making matters worse, restrictionists might use these findings to claim there really have not been as many deportations as the Obama administration has claimed. Put another nail on the “looking tough on immigration” Obama strategy.

As someone who has been deported on paper, but not in real life, I should feel lucky that ICE sometimes exercises discretion. But seeing this dysfunctional agency hold the power to do so much damage to the people of this country tells me this is bad fortune for everyone involved. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is a creation of the post-9/11 era, and the enlargement through executive powers of the national security state.


Matias Ramos
Carol Jean and Edward F. Newman Fellow