When U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement conducted an immigration sweep in northern Arizona in November, 2008, as a part of "Operation Return to Sender," they touted it as a program designed to target and deport dangerous criminals.
As it turns out, most of the people arrested didn't have any criminal record at all.
Of 80 people arrested between November 19-22, 2008 in northern AZ, only two were considered "criminal fugitives"-- the people the program was designed to target -- according to official ICE documents obtained by the ACLU through a freedom of information request. And only 14 of the 80 were "immigration fugitives" -- individuals who received deportation orders but did not leave the country.
Forty-three of the 80 were picked up through local law enforcement efforts that would have proceeded regardless of the raids, and 23 were "incidentals" -- people who happened to be at businesses or homes when authorities were looking for someone else, according to an ACLU statement.
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The results were so poor that even ICE officials questioned them. Katrina S. Krane, a field office director with detention and removal services at ICE, had some serious concerns about the raids, judging from ICE emails obtained by the ACLU.
"Fourteen out of 80 arrested in this Phoenix operation were fugitives? Why were the results so poor?" she asks in a 2008 email (recipient redacted). "Has the [Field Office Director] made it clear that the priority in these operations is to arrest fugitives?"
The worst part? ICE's terrible performance seems to be part of a growing trend. According to statistics published by the Migration Policy Institute, a D.C. immigration think-tank, the percentage of criminal aliens arrested by ICE raids each year is steadily declining. In 2003, criminal fugitives accounted for 32 percent of total immigrants arrested. By 2007, it had dropped to 9 percent.
"They are receiving millions [in] congressional funds to get dangerous criminals off the streets, but are using it for routine immigration enforcement," says Alessandra Soler Meetze, executive director of the Arizona ACLU. "Clearly something went horribly wrong in these northern Arizona raids -- and the public deserves to know what that is."