President Donald Trump’s would-be deportation force may be sadly unprepared for the task, according to new report by a government watchdog.
The report, which the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general released on April 20, found that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) isn’t deporting everyone it could be and has internal problems that will make it hard for the agency to manage with its growing workload under Trump. ICE conceded those problems exist and promised to try to fix them.
The report may come as a surprise; after all, during Barack Obama’s presidency, ICE deported more than 3 million undocumented immigrants––a record number that won him the nickname “Deporter in Chief.” And during Trump’s first three months in office, ICE snagged headlines for launching raids around the country targeting undocumented immigrants deemed dangerous. ICE said those raids were comparable to raids conducted during Obama’s presidency, but they still concerned advocates and undocumented immigrants.
This new report, though, indicates that even more people would have been deported by now if management at ICE were better at their jobs.
“ICE is almost certainly not deporting all the aliens who could be deported,” the report said, “and will likely not be able to keep up with growing numbers of deportable aliens.”
One of the biggest challenges for ICE is deporting undocumented immigrants whose home countries don’t want them back. A State Department official told Congress last July that Cuba, Somalia, India, and China are especially uncooperative. Deporting undocumented immigrants can involve a lot of paperwork and back-and-forth between the State Department and those immigrants’ home country governments. And if that government moves slowly, then immigrants who are supposed to be deported can be stuck in the U.S. for months or even years.
And that brings its own complications, since a 2001 Supreme Court ruling concluded it’s unconstitutional to indefinitely detain immigrants in that situation. As a result, many immigrants who are supposed to be deported but whose home countries don’t want them back end up out of detention.
That’s where things get tricky for ICE. The report found that ICE agents responsible for monitoring those immigrants are often overworked, with much more responsibility than they can manage. In the Washington D.C. field office, for instance, individual ICE officers were responsible for overseeing more than 10,000 non-detained immigrants––all on their own. ICE officers have to track down immigrants’ passports or birth certificates and share those documents with their home countries’ embassies, while also making sure the immigrants don’t abscond.
It’s not an easy task, and it can be urgent. Though immigrants in general have lower crime rates than native-born Americans, there have been headline-grabbing cases of undocumented immigrants waiting to be deported committing heinous crimes. One of the most notable was that of Jean Jacques, an undocumented immigrant from Haiti who––after being ordered deported and then released––stabbed a 25-year-old woman to death in Connecticut. He had already been convicted of attempted murder, but ICE agents weren’t able to get him sent back to Haiti before the killing.
He was convicted of the woman’s murder in June of 2015. But since then, according to the report, the problems at ICE that let it happen still aren’t fixed. And this could potentially put more lives at risk; one unnamed ICE officer told investigators that his or her workload was so big, s/he couldn’t keep an eye on immigrants who were supposed to be deported and who were deemed national security risks.
Trump promised on the campaign trail to hire 10,000 new ICE agents––a promise that could potentially help alleviate the workload. But he’s likely to have significant trouble finding people to fill those jobs, as has been widely reported.
In the early days of the Republican primary, Trump told Fox News that just about every undocumented immigrant in the U.S. would be subject to deportation if he became president.
“They’re here illegally, you take them, they have to go back,” he said.
Given the report’s findings, ICE isn’t yet up to that task.