Immigration officials back away from deportation program
Effort quickened process but raised rights issues
by Daniel González - Nov. 6, 2011 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic
Federal immigration officials have quietly backed away from a program
in Arizona and other Western states aimed at quickly and efficiently
deporting illegal immigrants rather than keeping them in costly
Tens of thousands of illegal immigrants, including thousands from
Arizona, have been deported under the program over the past several
years. Called stipulated removal, it allows the government to quickly
deport illegal immigrants held in detention centers as long as they
forgo a hearing before a judge to review their legal rights and to
determine if they want to fight their case.
The phaseout follows controversies and concerns.
Immigration officials hailed the program as cost-effective
deportations for people who wanted to go home. Critics worried that
the government was strong-arming immigrants to accept deportation
without regard for their due-process rights.
Immigration officials changed course in September 2010 after a
federal appellate court ruled that an immigrant held in an Eloy
detention center had his rights violated. After that, speedy removals
were offered only to illegal immigrants with lawyers, who could help
them fight their cases. Lawyers are not provided at taxpayer expense
in deportation proceedings.
Since then, immigration officials have not deported a single illegal
immigrant through the program in Arizona, said Vincent Picard, a
spokesman for ICE in Phoenix. Picard could not provide statistics for
ICE officials did not publicize the dramatic policy change. Many
immigrant lawyers and critics of the program were unaware the change
had been made.
Time and money
In a deportation proceeding, an illegal immigrant has the right to
appear in front of an immigration judge to decide whether to contest
the case. The immigrant also has the right to hire a lawyer.
But under stipulated removal, an immigrant who doesn't want to fight
deportation gives up the right to a hearing. The immigrant also gives
up the right to an appeal. Once the immigrant agrees to those
stipulations, the judge signs a deportation order, even if the
immigrant is not in the courtroom.
Supporters of stipulated removal, which remains in effect in other
parts of the country, say it benefits both the government and illegal
immigrants. The program can save time and money.
The illegal immigrant is typically deported within a day or two. In
comparison, an illegal immigrant facing deportation can spend weeks
or even months in detention. In 2011, the average time was 29 days,
according to ICE statistics.
The average daily cost of detention in 2011 was $112.83, said
Virginia Kice, an ICE spokeswoman.
"Such agreements between ICE and the alien are advantageous to the
government in that it relieves the immigration court of the need to
have a hearing, saves ICE additional detention costs, and allows the
alien to return to his/her country expeditiously," Picard said in an
Jessica Vaughan, director of policy at the Center for Immigration
Studies, a Washington, D.C., think tank that favors strict
immigration enforcement, said the program should be expanded, not
Offering stipulated removal only to immigrants who hire their own
lawyers bogs down the judicial process and defeats the purpose of the
program: to quickly remove illegal immigrants with no legal grounds
to remain in the U.S. who want to go home, Vaughan said. It also
clogs up immigration courts, making less room for immigrants with
strong legal cases to remain in the U.S.
"I see the greater use of stipulated removal as expediting the
inevitable, with the result being swifter access to hearings for the
people who are more likely to benefit from them," she said.
Phillip Crawford, a former field director for ICE's enforcement and
removal operations in Arizona, said it is a shame that stipulated
removals have been curtailed.
The program, he said, had several levels of "safeguards" to ensure
that the rights of illegal immigrants were protected and that
participants understood what they were signing. Each case was
reviewed by ICE officers during processing at detention centers, by
ICE prosecutors and by an immigration judge who has the power to
reject the deportation if the judge believes the immigrant had legal
grounds to remain.
He also said the program targeted illegal immigrants from Mexico
convicted of aggravated felonies with little chance of legally
remaining in the U.S.
"It was an excellent program," Crawford said.
Critics say stipulated removal circumvents immigrants' rights and
largely targeted immigrants who had not committed crimes.
A 30-page report released in September by the National Immigration
Law Center accused government officials of pressuring illegal
immigrants to accept quick deportation by threatening long detention
stays if they tried to fight to remain in the U.S. The government
also often didn't provide adequate interpretation and translation to
immigrants who didn't speak English, the report said.
The report found that 80 percent of those deported through the
program hadn't committed crimes.
The report also found that 96 percent of those deported didn't have
lawyers. Therefore, the report concluded, many of those without
criminal records may have been eligible to remain in the U.S. if they
had had a chance to fight their case.
Instead of deportation, the non-criminals also may have qualified for
less-severe voluntary departure, which gives immigrants the chance to
return to the U.S. if they qualify for a green card, said Karen
Tumlin, managing attorney for the Law Center. Instead, by accepting
stipulated removal, immigrants are generally barred from coming back
to the U.S. for as long as 10 years and face felony charges for
illegally re-entering the country.
The report was based on 20,000 government documents obtained through
a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.
Tumlin said she was unaware that ICE had stopped offering stipulated
removals to immigrants unless they had a lawyer. The Arizona Republic
discovered the new policy in September, when it began examining the
Law Center report.
"If that's true, it would be welcome news," Tumlin said.
The change, she said, alleviates concerns that the quick removals
were violating the due-process rights of illegal immigrants.
Illegal immigrants placed in deportation proceedings can sometimes
fight their case in court if they meet certain conditions, such as
having resided in the U.S. for a long period of time, having no
criminal record and having children born in this country.
Launched in 1995 to help alleviate overcrowding in federal, state and
local detention centers, the stipulated-removal program was rarely
used until President George W. Bush's administration began ramping up
immigration enforcement in 2004. The high rate continued during the
first two years of President Barack Obama's administration. According
to ICE, 32,635 people were deported in 2010.
From 2004 to 2010, immigration officials deported more than 160,000
under the program, according to the National Immigration Law Center's
The report found that more than 24,000 came from the detention center
in Eloy, the highest number of any facility in the country.
Internal government e-mails obtained through the Freedom of
Information lawsuit and posted online by the National Immigration Law
Center show that in 2005 alone, 5,787 illegal immigrants from Mexico
detained in Eloy were deported through the program and that
stipulated removals accounted for more than 50 percent of all
deportations at the center.
In September 2010, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that
immigration officials at Eloy had violated the rights of Isaac Ramos.
Ramos, an illegal immigrant from Mexico with prior criminal
convictions, had agreed to stipulated removal while being detained in
Eloy in 2006. The court ruled that the government failed to make it
clear to Ramos that he was giving up his right to talk to a lawyer,
who could have explained the process and the penalties. The court
also ruled that the immigration judge who signed Ramos' deportation
order failed to determine if Ramos had agreed to stipulated removal
"voluntarily, knowingly and intelligently," as required.
Ramos, who is married to a legal permanent resident and has two U.S.-
citizen children, had argued that he should be allowed to return to
the U.S. since his rights to due process were violated. The court,
however, denied that request.
Since backing away from using stipulated removal, ICE has worked out
a different approach in Arizona, Picard said.
Illegal immigrants who do not have legal representation and do not
want to contest their cases are given the option of attending "prompt
hearings," Picard said.
Held in front of immigration judges, the hearings ensure that
immigrants facing deportation are advised of their "full array" of
rights under the law, he said. Immigration judges also confirm that
the immigrants are aware of any possibility to legally remain in the
"Only if the judge is satisfied that the aliens are removable under
the charges filed against them, and are making a knowing and
intelligent waiver of their rights, will the judge order their
removal," Picard said.
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