Immigration and Customs Enforcement plans to launch an operation to find and deport undocumented immigrants who failed to voluntarily depart the United States despite previously committing to do so, according to a draft memo obtained by CNN.
It’s the latest in a string of operations launched by ICE, the enforcement arm of the Department of Homeland Security, in recent months after the agency said it would largely focus enforcement on public safety risks amid the coronavirus pandemic.
In the run up to November 3, and with early voting already underway, ICE and DHS are amplifying, with speeches and news conferences, a series of operations, particularly in jurisdictions that have adopted policies limiting cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities.
ICE also announced this week that it’s expanded a procedure to speed up deportations to include undocumented immigrants anywhere in the US who cannot prove they’ve lived in the US continuously for two years or more.
The operation, called “Operation Broken Promise,” is described as targeting “illegal aliens who broke their commitment or promise to the United States by failing to leave the country on an order voluntary departure,” the memo reads.
Generally, people residing in the US illegally can opt to leave the US under what’s known as “voluntary departure” by a specified date and avoid the consequences that come with deportation, like arrest and detention as well as some bars on re-entry.
The latest operation intends to target those who said they’d leave the US by a certain date but did not.
“Unfortunately, over the years, thousands of aliens have accepted the benefit of VD without fulfilling their promise to the Government—failing to timely depart the United States,” the memo says. It also notes that people with criminal convictions will be prioritized.
In fiscal year 2020, 16,451 immigrants were granted voluntary departure by an immigration judge, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, which tracks immigration court data.
Asked about the operation, ICE said it doesn’t comment on “any law enforcement sensitive issues that may adversely impact our officers and the public.”
“However, every day as part of routine operations, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) targets and arrests criminal aliens and other individuals who have violated our nation’s immigration laws,” an ICE spokesperson said in a statement.
Under the Obama administration, operations solely targeting people who agreed to voluntary depart but didn’t leave were eliminated, said John Sandweg, former acting ICE director under former President Barack Obama, adding that resources were instead shifted to focus on criminals. Sandweg noted, however, that there can be crossover.
“One reason why, historically, ICE has wanted to do things like that is you can drive up your deportation numbers,” Sandweg said.
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said Thursday that as of September 19, “ICE has removed over 182,000 aliens including 4,000 that were known or suspected gang members” in the last fiscal year, cautioning that numbers have not yet been finalized.
The latest change to broaden what’s known as “expedited removal” casts a wider net of undocumented immigrants subject to the fast-track deportation procedure known as “expedited removal,” which allows immigration authorities to remove an individual without a hearing before an immigration judge.
Previously, undocumented immigrants who were caught within 100 miles of a land border and within 14 days of arrival were subject to the procedure.
Immigration lawyers and advocates have raised concern over the change, which they warned would result in less due process for those subject to removal.
The Trump administration had initially unveiled the change last year, but it had been halted by a lower court. It’s since been allowed to go forward.
“Our ability to implement this important statutory tool will further enable us to protect our communities and preserve the integrity of our nation’s Congressionally mandated immigration laws,” said Tony Pham, senior official performing the duties of ICE director.