Analysis of government immigration data provided to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University in late December — almost two years after TRAC had requested it — show that “many fewer individuals were apprehended, detained and deported by the agency than were claimed in its official statements” — congressional testimony, press releases, and the agency’s latest 2010 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, TRAC said.
In its initial FOIA request in May 2010, TRAC asked for specific information about all individuals who had been arrested, detained, charged, returned or removed from the country for the period beginning October 1, 2004 to date. According to TRAC, “in its initial and incomplete response, however, ICE so far has only provided TRAC with information through FY 2005. The agency said it would provide detailed information about the more recent years later.”
When compared with various public statements by the agency, however, TRAC’s analysis of this limited case-by-case information provided found vast discrepancies. Among them: ICE statements claimed almost five times more individual apprehensions than revealed in the data, as well as 24 times more individuals deported and 34 times more detentions.
Those records were provided to TRAC by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
When the PBS series, “Frontline,” did an hour-long piece on the immigration situation in the US today, a White House immigration spokesperson confirmed that the Obama Administration is deporting 400,000 people every year and racking up the largest number of deportations of any president in American history
TRAC says, “Details about the vast differences between the agency activities documented by the data and its public statements are laid out in a FOIA appeal filed by TRAC on January 4. The surprising size of the discrepancies, the TRAC appeal said, indicated that either “ICE has been making highly exaggerated and inaccurate claims about the level of its enforcement activities,” or it is “withholding on a massive scale.”
TRAC’s appeal emphasized that this was not an inconsequential bookkeeping problem, noting “that the alleged failure of the federal government to enforce the immigration laws has been a hotly debated topic during both the Bush and Obama administrations.”
“Thus, the agency’s apparent inability to substantiate the level of its claimed enforcement activities is a very significant matter,” the appeal continued. “Indeed it is central to the current public debate on federal enforcement policy in the ongoing presidential election campaign.”
Recent press accounts credit the Obama Administration, and President Obama specifically, for ordering the deportation of more undocumented persons than any other president in US history. However, the large numbers of deportees reported by government immigration authorities have themselves become problematic.
Various organizations that specialize in immigration matters have concluded that the total number of people deported has included a preponderance of those whose “crimes” have been minor – broken tail lights at traffic stops, expired driver’s licenses, other minor infractions of the law.
Many of these referrals for deportation have been made by a program that was supposed to isolate serious criminals – the Secure Communities program –in which local law enforcement authorities routinely enter fingerprints and other data of people they arrest locally into an immigration database.
Other parts of the database are provided through a program known as 287(g), which gives local law enforcement personnel the authority to act as proxies for Federal immigration officials in arresting and detaining people they believe are in the US illegally.
Both programs have come under heavy fire from immigration and human rights groups on issues including ethnic profiling, and the inexperience of local law enforcement officers with immigration law, which is one of the most complex branches of law.
TRAC seeks the ICE documents under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Given the long delay in responding to the FOIA request, TRAC requested a formal agency investigation of the matter or that it be referred to the Office of Inspector General.
TRAC said, “As the unlawful failure of ICE to provide the requested data continued well beyond the legal deadlines, TRAC engaged in numerous unsuccessful attempts to resolve the matter with agency officials and in late November of 2010 asked the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) for assistance in persuading the agency to act on our request.”
It added, “OGIS, located in the National Archives and Records Administration, was created by Congress in 2007 to serve as a FOIA ‘ombudsman’ resolving conflicts between requesters and agencies. But TRAC says this approach “was not very successful,” and in mid-October 2011 James V.M.L. Holzer, the Director of Homeland Security’s Public Liaison and Director of Disclosure and FOIA Operations, intervened in the case.
The organization added, “The failure of ICE to abide by the mandate of the FOIA in a timely way about its immigration enforcement actions during the five-year period covered by our May 2010 request starkly contrasts with the repeated transparency statements of President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder and many other administration officials since they came to office almost three years ago.”
TRAC also said ICE’s exaggeration “appears to be a part of a larger pattern.” It said that, in a three-page letter dated September of 2010, for example, ICE informed TRAC that key statistical data it had previously provided us were now “unavailable” and that the agency without explanation, was unilaterally imposing a $450,000 FOIA processing fee.
ICE also claimed that Syracuse University was not an educational institution. Earlier in the same year a sister agency in the Department of Homeland Security — U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) — demanded an $111,930 processing fee.
“While time consuming, these and other Administration feints, have not stopped TRAC from its two decades long campaign to obtain revealing information from ICE, USCIS, the IRS, the Justice Department and other agencies, TRAC declared.
William Fisher has managed economic development programs for the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development in the Middle East, North Africa, Latin America, Asia and elsewhere for the past 25 years. He has supervised major multi-year projects for AID in Egypt, where he lived and worked for three years. He returned later with his team to design Egypt’s agricultural strategy. Fisher served in the international affairs area in the administration of President John F. Kennedy. He began his working life as a reporter and bureau chief for the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Associated Press in Florida. He now reports on a wide-range of issues for a number of online journals.