The Bush Administration’s increased interior enforcement measures were originally billed as necessary for national security and public safety.  But it appears that very few terrorists or violent criminals have been caught.   A new report by the Migration Policy Institute entitled “Collateral Damage:  An Examination of ICE’s Fugitive Operations Program” finds that as their budget multiplies and the number of immigrants apprehended increases, ICE is netting fewer and fewer violent criminals and arresting more and more undocumented immigrants with no criminal history.

MPI examined the National Fugitive Operations Program, which was created in 2003 to locate and detain thousands of “fugitive aliens” – immigrants who have been ordered to be removed from the U.S. but who have not yet been deported.  Since 2003, its budget has increased 23-fold, from $9 million in FY2003 to more than $218 million in FY2008, and the number of personnel employed has increased 1,300 percent.  But the results of all of this spending have not been consistent with ICE’s rhetoric.

There are currently about 100 Fugitive Operations Teams (FOTs) located across the U.S.  Using information from a database that is hopelessly inaccurate and filled with wrong addresses, FOTs target individuals in their homes.  Armed with civil administrative warrants that are not signed by a judge and do not allow entry into dwellings without consent, FOTs go to individuals’ homes, often entering without consent and with a show of force, frightening residents and communities.

FOTs are supposed to prioritize fugitives who pose a threat to the nation or the community or who have a violent criminal history.  However, MPI found that 73% of the individuals apprehended by FOTs had no criminal convictions.  In 2007, fugitives with criminal convictions represented just 9% of total FOT arrests.

So who are FOTs arresting?  “Ordinary status violators” are individuals FOTs believe are undocumented or in violation of immigration laws, but who have not been charged with anything.  These are people FOTs find in homes, in neighborhoods, in strip malls, and other locations while they’re supposedly searching for violent criminals.  ICE likes to call them collaterals.  The number of collaterals increased in 2006 when ICE instituted a quota system and, in an attempt to reach their quota, FOTs began to arrest more “low hanging fruit.” Now they’re about 40% of all arrests.

New Secretary of DHS Janet Napolitano is reviewing FOTs and seems poised to more effectively prioritize whom they pursue and arrest.  Hopefully she will come to the same conclusion we have – comprehensive immigration reform that includes a legalization program is a much more effective way to identify undocumented workers and turn them into legal, productive, tax paying citizens.