Thursday, February 05, 2009

Immigration Priorities Questioned Report Says Focus on Deporting Criminals Apparently Shifted

By Spencer S. Hsu - Washington Post Staff Writer - Thursday, February 5, 2009

As the Obama administration vows to re-engineer immigration policy to target criminals, a new report says that in recent years, a high-profile federal program shifted its focus away from catching the most dangerous illegal immigrants who were evading deportation orders.

Between 2003 and 2008, 27 percent of the more than 96,000 illegal immigrants arrested under U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's National Fugitive Operations Program had criminal convictions. And in 2007, 9 percent of those arrested were fugitives from deportation orders who were criminals or were considered dangerous. That same year, the share of arrests of illegal immigrants not facing deportation orders grew to 40 percent.

The findings come as Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has ordered a review of which immigrants are targeted for arrest and as a Democratic Congress has shifted ICE money toward pursuing criminals.

Under President George W. Bush, immigrant advocates complained that armed ICE agents conducted harsh and indiscriminate raids at homes and in neighborhoods, and advocates accused the government of racial profiling, illegal searches, false arrests, family separations and other humanitarian abuses.

Authors of the report, issued by the Immigration Legal Clinic at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York City and the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, said that despite assurances to Congress, Bush administration officials changed course from trying to capture the most dangerous illegal immigrants to boosting arrest totals.

Peter L. Markowitz, a Cardozo law professor, said Bush officials approved such tactics because they were "facing political pressure to look tough on immigration enforcement." ICE, he said, "created tremendous bureaucratic incentives" for fugitive operations teams to adopt "a shotgun approach of undisciplined home raids."

In January 2006, ICE raised arrest quotas for each team in the program from 125 to 1,000 and ended a requirement that 75 percent of those arrested be criminals. Later, ICE let teams count non-fugitives toward their numerical goal. The Cardozo-MPI findings were first reported yesterday by the New York Times.

Rep. David E. Price (D-N.C.), chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee for homeland security, said he was "discouraged that ICE's previous leadership misrepresented the goals of the expanded Fugitive Operations Program and chose not to use its additional resources as Congress instructed."

Spending on the program grew from $9 million in 2003 to $219 million in 2008, and the number of fugitive operations teams grew from eight to 104.

Julie L. Myers, ICE director from 2006 until last year, called the report "a work of fiction with a thinly veiled agenda" that "unfairly maligns the work Congress asked the agency to do."

Congress has mandated "that all fugitives must be identified, arrested and removed," current ICE spokeswoman Kelly A. Nantel said, not just those with prior criminal convictions.

Nantel added that ICE arrested more than 250,000 other criminal illegal immigrants last year through different programs and that so far in fiscal 2009, it has picked up 179 percent more than in the same period a year earlier.

For the first time, she said, the number of immigrants evading deportation orders fell sharply, from 634,000 in 2007 to 554,000 currently, in part through a purge of outdated records.

"To give non-criminal fugitives a pass is to send the message that a judge's deportation order doesn't matter. It is a message of amnesty for lawbreakers," said Rep. Lamar Smith (Tex.), the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary subcommittee on immigration.

Napolitano called that message a "false dichotomy," saying, "No, it's a matter of where you put your emphasis. . . . It doesn't mean that you give a blank check to everybody else."

For example, ICE estimates that as many as 450,000 criminals being held in federal, state and local U.S. detention are illegal immigrants. The agency deported about 113,000 criminals last year.

This year and last, congressional Democrats gave ICE $350 million and told the agency to redirect an additional $850 million to catch and deport criminals, leading to a rebound in arrests.
Read more in the Washington Post

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

How would you like to have this pipeline in your yard?

A 10 inch pipeline ruptured in Franklin County, MO yesterday. The pipelines running through front yards in Fort Worth are 16 inch gas gathering lines carrying raw, wet natural gas at about 200 psi..

Part of Highway 100 reopened this morning after a propane pipeline breaks. Families evacuated can move back into their homes today The gas leak started yesterday afternoon along Highway 100 between Pacific and Washington.

Here is a list of a few pipeline explosions.

There are many, many examples of explosions and fires occurring in conjunction with natural gas pipeline ruptures. For example, the Pecos River explosion near Carlsbad, NM in 2000 created a large crater, killed 12 people, and blew a large section of the pipe 287 ft away from the crater.

An email from a resident of Missouri:
From what I have been able to gather, this is a 10 inch Conoco Propane Pipeline that was struck while workers were widening Highway 100. They did shut off the pipeline at the valves on each side of the line but it is expected that it will take all night for the broken section to empty. This is a heavy gas and settles near the ground so there is a chance of ignition if the gas comes in contact with an ignition source.
Please monitor the local news coverage of this rupture and when you watch the video of the propane spewing into the air PLEASE consider what this would do if it were in our backyards. Also keep in mind that the pipeline that sits 16 feet from my home is a 24 inch line. Just imagine!
There is more work to be done here in St. Peters. Those of us who are already within 16 to 50 feet from these pipelines need help.
Please help us! Get us out of here before an unimaginable grotesque tragedy occurs here in St. Peters.

Target of Immigrant Raids Shifted

By NINA BERNSTEIN - New York Times - February 3, 2009

The raids on homes around the country were billed as carefully planned hunts for dangerous immigrant fugitives, and given catchy names like Operation Return to Sender.

And they garnered bigger increases in money and staff from Congress than any other program run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, even as complaints grew that teams of armed agents were entering homes indiscriminately.

But in fact, beginning in 2006, the program was no longer what was being advertised. Federal immigration officials had repeatedly told Congress that among more than half a million immigrants with outstanding deportation orders, they would concentrate on rounding up the most threatening — criminals and terrorism suspects.

Instead, newly available documents show, the agency changed the rules, and the program increasingly went after easier targets. A vast majority of those arrested had no criminal record, and many had no deportation orders against them, either.

Internal directives by immigration officials in 2006 raised arrest quotas for each team in the National Fugitive Operations Program, eliminated a requirement that 75 percent of those arrested be criminals, and then allowed the teams to include nonfugitives in their count.

In the next year, fugitives with criminal records dropped to 9 percent of those arrested, and nonfugitives picked up by chance — without a deportation order — rose to 40 percent. Many were sent to detention centers far from their homes, and deported.

The impact of the internal directives, obtained by a professor and students at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law through a Freedom of Information lawsuit and shared with The New York Times, shows the power of administrative memos to significantly alter immigration enforcement policy without any legislative change.

The memos also help explain the pattern of arrests documented in a report, criticizing the fugitive operations program, to be released on Wednesday by the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan research organization in Washington.

Analyzing more than five years of arrest data supplied to the institute last year by Julie Myers, who was then chief of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the report found that over all, as the program spent a total of $625 million, nearly three-quarters of the 96,000 people it apprehended had no criminal convictions.

Without consulting Congress, the report concluded, the program shifted to picking up “the easiest targets, not the most dangerous fugitives.”

It noted, however, that the most recent figures available indicate an increase in arrests of those with a criminal background last year, though it was unclear whether that resulted from a policy change.

The increased public attention comes as the new secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, has ordered a review of the fugitive teams operation, which was set up in 2002 to find and deport noncitizens with outstanding orders of deportation, then rapidly expanded after 2003 with the mission of focusing on the most dangerous criminals.

Peter L. Markowitz, who teaches immigration law at Cardozo and directs its immigration legal clinic, said the memos obtained in its lawsuit reflected the Bush administration’s effort to appear tough on immigration enforcement during the unsuccessful push to pass comprehensive immigration legislation in 2006, and amid rising anger over illegal immigration.

“It looks like what happened here is that the law enforcement strategy was hijacked by the political agenda of the administration,” he said.

Kelly A. Nantel, a spokeswoman for the immigration agency, defended the program. “For the first time in history, we continue to reduce the number of immigration fugitive cases,” she said, noting that the number of noncitizens at large with outstanding deportation orders, which peaked at 634,000 in the 2007 fiscal year, is now down to about 554,000. “These results speak for themselves and they are consistent with Congress’s mandate: locate and remove immigration absconders.”

Ms. Nantel said the number of fugitives with criminal backgrounds arrested in the 2008 fiscal year rose to 5,652, or 16 percent of 34,000 arrests, and nonfugitives fell to 8,062, or 23 percent.

Many Americans have welcomed roundups of what the agency calls “ordinary status violators” — noncitizens who have no outstanding order of deportation, but are suspected of being in the country unlawfully, either because they overstayed a visa or entered without one.

But Michael Wishnie, one of the authors of the report, who teaches law at Yale, said that random arrests of low-level violators in residential raids not only raised a new set of legal and humanitarian issues, including allegations of entering private homes without warrants or consent and separating children from their caretakers, but was “dramatically different from how ICE has sold this program to Congress.”

“If we just want to arrest undocumented people,” he said, “we can do it much more cheaply.”

Congressional financing for the fugitive operations program rose to $218 million in the 2008 fiscal year, from $9 million in 2003, as the number of seven-member teams multiplied to 104 from 8.

In Congressional briefings and public statements since 2003, agency officials have repeatedly said that given the vast number of immigrants with outstanding deportation orders, the program will focus its resources on the roughly 20 percent with a criminal background.

An Immigration and Customs Enforcement memo dated Jan. 22, 2004, underscored that commitment: “Effective immediately, no less than 75 percent of all fugitive operations targets will be those classified as criminal aliens” — noncitizens with a criminal record as well as an order of deportation. It added that “collateral apprehensions” — immigration violators encountered by chance during an operation — would not be counted in that percentage.

But on Jan. 31, 2006, a new memo changed the rules. The directive, from John P. Torres, acting director of the agency, raised each team’s “target goal” to 1,000 a year, from 125.

And it removed the requirement that at least 75 percent of those sought out for arrest be criminals. Instead, it told the teams to prioritize cases according to the threat posed by the fugitive, with noncriminals in the lowest of five categories. And it repeated that “collateral apprehensions will not count” toward the 1,000 arrest quota.

But that standard, too, was dropped nine months later. A new memo from Mr. Torres said “nonfugitive arrests may now be included” to reach the required 1,000 arrests. On average, however, it said at least half of those arrested by each team should be fugitives. It also promised to “ensure the maximum availability of detention space for fugitive arrest operations.”

One result was an increase in noncriminals held in immigration detention. Another, the Migration Policy Institute report concluded, was that the percentage of criminal fugitives arrested plummeted, to 9 percent in the year that ended Sept. 30, 2007, from 39 percent in the 2004 fiscal year.

That same year, 15,646, or 51 percent of those arrested, had an outstanding deportation order, but no criminal record, and 12,084, or 40 percent, were termed “ordinary status violators” who did not fit any of the program’s priority categories.

The report said the program relied on a database riddled with errors, and that many deportation orders were issued without the subject in court, sometimes because of faulty addresses.

The looser rules were reflected in sweeps like one conducted in New Haven in June 2007. During the raid, lawyers at Yale’s immigration law center said, agents who found no one home at an address specified in a deportation order simply knocked on other doors until one opened, pushed their way in, and arrested residents who acknowledged that they lacked legal status.

Of the 32 arrested and scattered to jails around New England, only 5 had outstanding deportation orders, and only 1 or 2 had criminal records.
Read More in the New York Times

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