ICE this month rounded up 154 illegal immigrants who’d promised the government they would self-deport within a few months but turned around and defied that promise.
One had been defying his promise for more than 20 years, said Tony Pham, acting chief of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Others made their promise as recently as earlier this year.
Of those nabbed, 133 not only broke their promise to leave, but also had criminal records such as domestic violence charges, Mr. Pham said.
“ICE deployed officers across the country in search of undocumented aliens who broke their promise to the United States and the immigration courts,” Mr. Pham said.
He said the goal was to send a message to “thousands” of others who are still defying their promise that ICE hasn’t forgotten about them and may come looking.
Operation Broken Promise, as ICE dubbed the effort, targeted people who had been granted “voluntary departure.” That’s an alternative to deportation, and it can help someone avoid the serious consequences that come with a formal removal, such as an abrupt ouster and a long-time bar on attempting to reenter legally.
Under voluntary departure, migrants agree that in order not to be formally removed, they will leave the country by a certain time, usually 60 or 120 days.
The additional time gives them a chance to get their affairs in order.
But many end up defying their pledges, hoping to disappear back into the shadows.
Failing to depart can earn a fine and an automatic 10-year bar on being able to petition to come back legally.
The 154 migrants were spread across the country.
The number was lower than the “more than 170” ICE had teased ahead of Mr. Pham’s press conference.
One immigrant-rights group complained Wednesday, in advance of the announcement, that ICE’s operation was a “last-ditch effort to drive up deportations” before the end of the Trump administration.
“Despite claims of focusing on ‘public safety’ concerns during the pandemic, ICE’s new operation targets minor offenders, not dangerous criminals,” said Immigrants’ List.
Immigration activists argue that being in the country illegally shouldn’t be a reason to be deported.
Mr. Pham, though, said the vast majority of targets in this operation also had criminal records. And he said there’s a value to making illegal immigrants abide by their promises.
He compared it to a judge in a criminal or traffic court whose orders were being defied. He said that judge would issue a contempt citation to force compliance.
In the immigration context, he said, that means making migrants follow through on their deportation promises.
It’s not clear whether this sort of operation will happen in the future.
Presumptive President-elect Joseph R. Biden has vowed to block deportations during his initial days in office, and has promised to revise ICE’s priorities for who gets ousted.
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