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ICE officials set quotas to deport more illegal immigrants
Joan Friedland, immigration policy director at the National Immigration Law Center, countered that quotas will encourage agents to target easy cases, not the ones who pose the greatest safety risk.
"For ICE leadership, it's not about keeping the community safe. It's all about chasing this 400,000 number," said Chris Crane, spokesman for the American Federation of Government Employees Council 118, which represents ICE workers.
Since November, ICE field offices in Northern California, Dallas and Chicago have issued new evaluation standards and work plans for enforcement agents who remove illegal immigrants from jails and prisons. In some cases, for example, the field offices are requiring that agents process an average of 40 to 60 cases a month to earn "excellent" ratings.
Such standards present a problem, said one San Francisco area agent who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid reprisal. Instead of taking a day to prepare a case against a legal resident with multiple convictions for serious crimes, agents may choose to process a drunk driver or nonviolent offender who agrees to leave the country voluntarily, because it will take only hours.
The steps appear at odds with a statement made by Morton in August, when he told reporters ICE had ended quotas in a program to capture illegal immigrants violating court deportation orders.
"I just don't think that a law enforcement program should be based on a hard number that must be met," Morton said. "So we don't have quotas anymore."
Under the Bush administration, ICE officials in 2006 increased an annual quota from 125 to 1,000 arrests for each fugitive operations team. At the same time, the agency dropped its policy that agents focus on criminals and deportation violators.
Becker is a staff reporter for the nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting in Berkeley, Calif.