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The New ICE Age

The federal government could begin cracking down on employers who hire undocumented workers, according to a copy of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s new strategic plan obtained by The Texas Tribune.

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The federal government could begin cracking down on employers who hire undocumented workers and on residents with expired visas, according to a copy of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s new strategic plan obtained by The Texas Tribune.

The plan — “Strategic Priorities for Fiscal Years 2010-2014” — was sent to ICE employees but has yet to be made public. It also outlines the agency’s coming internal realignment; its expansion of operations in Mexico, Colombia and Canada; and the proposed construction of at least four additional regional immigration detention centers. (Read the full plan here.)

An agency spokesman said the action items “speak for themselves” but that the document could be amended. Its disclosure comes amid the outcry of state officials, including many in Texas, who complain that Washington has been lackadaisical in enforcing immigration laws. With the respect to the timing of the plan, the spokesman said it was conceived when ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton accepted that job about a year ago, but he conceded it had “gained steam” within the past four months.

Part of ICE’s objective to “create a culture of employer compliance,” as the plan calls it, involves “aggressive criminal and civil enforcement against those employers who knowingly violate the law,” with an emphasis on employers who exploit and abuse workers and “engage in egregious conduct.”

ICE also proposes a campaign to support the E-Verify program, which grants businesses access to a database to determine employment eligibility. Currently, participation is only mandatory for federal-contract employees. Some anti-immigration hard-liners have argued the program should be mandatory for all businesses, but only a handful of states have adopted such a policy. The agency plans to hire additional auditors to “support a meaningful civil audit system.”

Additionally, ICE intends to invest more money and staff to deport aliens who overstay non-immigrant visas. The documents are generally granted to foreigners who arrive in the country legally — often for business, to study or to get medical treatment. ICE attorneys could be asked to serve as special assistant U.S. attorneys to assist prosecutors in their efforts to ferret out document fraud.  

And ICE proposes an ambitious campaign to inform the public about its operations and “better define itself and promote its mission” to Congress, the media, other law enforcement groups and community groups, the plan says. “Over the next five years, young people interested in law enforcement careers will increasingly understand the unique and exciting mission of ICE.”

The agency will also completely overhaul the current immigration detention system to shorten an alien’s time in custody and to “reduce reliance on excess capacity in State and local penal facilities.” ICE often enters into agreements with local facilities and negotiates a per-diem rate of reimbursement for each inmate housed; such agreements are often a lucrative source of income for cash-strapped local jails. The plan does not indicate whether such agreements would be curtailed or eliminated but says the agency, over the next five years, will “apply new detention standards to existing facilities and solicit proposals for no less than four regional facilities.” The agency envisions the new models would expand access to medical care, recreation and legal resources, though advocates for immigrant-detention reform are likely to remain skeptical. Many of the same improvements were proposed in a report last year, but advocates say the government is dragging its feet. Meanwhile, the average wait time for an immigrant detainee has exceeded a year, according to a report released last month by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.

Budget permitting, ICE will expand its operations abroad through increased electronic surveillance in Mexico, Canada and Colombia and will seek to improve relationships with the Drug Enforcement Agency and Customs and Border Protection. The agency’s Visa Security Program, which dispatches immigration agents to foreign countries to conduct visa security operations — in-depth investigations of applications to deter terrorism or crime — will expand to embassies and consulates deemed by the U.S. Department of State as high-risk “from a terrorism perspective.”  

The agency is also poised to undergo a significant management overhaul. In a letter to agents, Morton introduced three new directorates: Homeland Security Investigations, Enforcement and Removal Operations, and Management and Administration, part of ICE’s mission to better fulfill its “core operational responsibilities — criminal investigation and civil immigration enforcement.” An executive associate director will lead each new directorate, and the shift in strategy would not abolish any current agency or affect congressional appropriations, Morton said.

The new investigations office will oversee the agency’s offices of Intelligence, International Affairs and Investigations. James Dinkins, the current director of the Office of Investigations, will oversee the new department. The Enforcement and Removals office will oversee the Office of Detention and Removal Operations and the Secure Communities program, which uses fingerprint technology to identify aliens booked into local jails. It will be headed by James Chaparro, the director of ICE’s Detention and Removal Operations. Chaparro recently came under fire after the Washington Post leaked an internal memo in which Chaparro explained that ICE’s deportation levels were low — leading many to assume the agency used quotas to gauge the success of its operations.

“The current non-criminal removal rate projections will result in 159,740 removals at the close of the fiscal year," the memo read. "Coupling this with the projections in criminal removals only gives us a total of just over 310,000 overall removals — well under the Agency's goal of 400,000."

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