The Threatening "Silliness" of U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement

Last week when U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE) announced its new "Self Deportation" program aimed at 457,000 undocumented immigrants without criminal records , I confess I was not shy in saying what I thought of the program.

In the Chicago Tribune, I called "Operation Scheduled Departure" a "very silly idea" and said that it was "about public relations... trying to put a happy face on some very brutal actions". Similar quotes appeared In the Wall Street Journal, the Associated Press, and on national Fox News and National Public Radio.

Finally, when I appeared in the Washington Post again saying that the ICE program "is not designed to work", ICE officials knew they had to act. The Post reports:

"[ICE officials]... questioned the motives of enforcement critics who do not urge illegal immigrants to turn themselves in under Scheduled Departure, while criticizing ICE for enforcement raids. 'We are going to find out if people are opposed to methods of enforcement or if they are against any enforcement of the law,' said James T. Hayes Jr., acting director of detention and removal operations for ICE."

For Mr. Hayes' benefit, and to save taxpayers the cost of a full-blown investigation of my thoughts, I would like to clarify a few things for Mr. Hayes. I no longer think that their "Scheduled Departure" program is silly. My mistake- so please, ICE, don't come for me in the middle of the night!

No, the idea's not silly at all.

It is a serious waste of taxpayer dollars, and an attempt to cover up an operation rife with unfunny controversy- from interfering with national labor law, to the countless deaths in immigrant detention, to the expanding and unaccountable privately-traded people warehouses, where workers are kept away from families, priests, and loved ones.

Mr. Hayes, your program targets the 457,000 undocumented immigrants who, according to ICE, "have no criminal record, who pose no danger to the community". These immigrants are, in other words, workers. They are desperately clinging to any shred of hope that they can remain in the United States, continue working, stay with their spouses and children, and eventually gain legal status. Contrary to ICE's healthy imagination, they are not sitting around waiting for a ticket home.

If these men and women wanted to "self-deport" they would just get on a plane or drive across the border. Given what they have to lose by leaving, and how little most have to go back to, it is small wonder that they are not lining up to take advantage of ICE's generous offer.

Mr. Hayes, I hope that you and your taxpayer-supported para-military force, ICE, can find it in your hearts and minds to re-focus your efforts on people who actually might hurt us-- criminals, drug smugglers, and human traffickers, for example.

As to my personal motivations... I'm glad you asked!

I would like the Bush administration to stop its chest-thumping enforcement actions and publicity stunts; to stop ruining families and terrorizing communities; to end the racial profiling of Latinos, and to get serious about real immigration reform. We need realistic immigration laws, not showy attempts to plug up the holes in sinking ones.

Mr. Hayes, in America we change broken and stupid laws - that is how women got the vote and Jim Crow segregation was ended. We will have enforcement that works only when we create legal avenues for workers to come to the U.S. to do the many entry-level jobs our economy has created and only when we legalize the 12 million undocumented workers who are already contributing to our nation with their sweat.

Meanwhile, I think I will continue to use my rights as an American to continue to criticize stupid - not "silly" - initiatives by ICE.

And for the record, I am not the only one who thought that ICE's "self-deportation" program was "silly". At the end of the week, even with all of the press releases and news reports and paid ads trumpeting this $100,000 program, a whopping 3 undocumented immigrants turned themselves in!

A good week's work, Mr. Hayes. At that rate, in just 3,000 years all 457,000 of the undocumented fugitives ICE is targeting will have "self-deported", and then you can get to work on the other 11,443,000 undocumented immigrants who do not yet have deportation orders. Or maybe even on capturing and prosecuting the real criminals who pose a threat to our country.

So there you have it, Mr Hayes, Operation "Scheduled Departure" was not just a silly public relations stunt after all! It was seriously stupid.

Joshua Hoyt is the Executive Director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.