On June 12, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the enforcement arm of the Department of Homeland Security, and other law enforcement officials raided half a dozen State College Asian restaurants in what was described as a targeted enforcement action. Roughly a dozen people were apprehended, handcuffed and detained on the same evening. While there is still much to be learned by the public about the reasons behind the recent State College raids, it is important to consider how these tactics impact families and whether raids are even effective tools for immigration enforcement.
Each time DHS enters a home or work site to conduct a raid, due process violations are possible and families are broken. Without translators, affected individuals cannot understand what is being said or happening. Furthermore, raids separate families when loved ones are detained in remote locations. Raids are also disruptive to businesses and expensive for the taxpayer. To illustrate, in one large work site raid conducted at a meat packing plant in Postville, Iowa, it was reported that ICE spent $5.2 million, or about $14,000 per immigrant. Raids also make communities less safe by driving a wedge between community members and law enforcement.
Individuals apprehended during raids are often taken into immigration custody. More than 300,000 people pass through immigration detention each year, and many are detained in jails or jail-like facilities. The immigration detainee population includes women, men and children, including lawful permanent residents (green card holders) and the parents of U.S. citizens. Since immigration custody is a part of the civil system, there is no guarantee of court-appointed counsel. DHS has created standards that address medical care, legal access and other policies about how detainees should be treated in detention, but they are not legally binding nor do they prevent the possibility that U.S. citizens end up unlawfully detained.
DHS has the resources to deport (remove) less than 4 percent, or about 400,000, of the total removable population. In recognition of this reality, it has published “priorities” for enforcement and memoranda on the factors that should lead to a favorable grant of prosecutorial discretion. But deportations continue to rise despite these policies. In 2013, DHS deported 368,644 individuals. The majority of those deported did not see a courtroom or judge, but instead were removed speedily by DHS through its expedited removal and reinstatement of removal programs.
We need more facts, but, based on what I have witnessed in speaking with some of those affected by the raid and working for many years as an immigration lawyer and policy advocate, enforcement actions like the raid in State College are disturbing because they are expensive, have the potential to violate fundamental rights, and fail to provide real solutions. Every person deserves the opportunity to present evidence to a judge, find pro bono counsel and be treated with dignity. Rather than turning food workers into felons, DHS and Congress should focus on a legislative fix to our broken immigration system.
Wadhia is the Samuel Weiss faculty scholar and director of the Center for Immigrants’ Rights at Penn State Law and author of “Beyond Deportation: The Role of Prosecutorial Discretion in Immigration Cases .”