ICE not earning paycheck

In television crime dramas, when the feds discover that someone is in this country illegally, they grab ’em, lock ’em up and deport ’em. On shows like “Law & Order,” this usually happens when a courageous “undocumented” immigrant steps forward to testify against a violent criminal or sex offender.

This sort of thing must happen sometimes, since there are undeniably illegals in various detention camps around the country awaiting a hearing and almost certain deportation, but it seems it doesn’t happen to most of those who come into contact with immigration-enforcement officials. When the feds stumble upon someone who shouldn’t be here, they hand him a ticket or summons requiring him to appear before an administrative court for a hearing. It’s more like a traffic ticket than anything else.

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Anyone who has ever received a traffic ticket knows that after signing it and agreeing to show up in court, you are released. It doesn’t hit the fan unless you fail to make your court date, and then only because the local cops know where to find you and know that the whole system would break down if they simply allow you to walk away.

The problem with handing the equivalent of tickets to suspected illegals is that the authorities rarely know where to find them. For all practical purposes, they can toss the ticket and vanish.

And it turns out that’s exactly what almost half of them do, according to Mark Metcalf, a former immigration judge, who last week gave Congress a glimpse at numbers that reveal just how poorly the system functions. Appearing before the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security and International Law, Metcalf revealed that between 1996 and 2008 the feds issued “tickets” to some 1.8 million suspected illegals. Seven hundred thirty-six thousand of them failed to show up for their court dates. After 9/11 things got even worse, although security concerns did little to convince Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to tighten up. Since then more than 50 percent of those “ticketed” have failed to show.

And what happens to those who do show up and are ordered to leave? Not much. Most are released pending appeal. Only 6 to 9 percent ever appeal, but hordes of those facing deportation simply evade the order and stay. In 2002 alone, according to Metcalf, more than 600,000 facing deportation simply vanished. More than 500,000 did the same in 2008.

Given these numbers, one would assume that ICE would welcome improvements in a staggeringly expensive and incredibly inefficient system. Yet John Morton, Homeland Security’s assistant secretary for ICE, suggested that his agency might just ignore referrals from Arizona officials because neither he, the president nor the attorney general like it that Arizona is butting into their business.

Morton and his minions can’t really be focusing on potential terrorists, or they would have fixed a system that let 45,000 illegals from countries that are prime producers of jihadists vanish on them in 2008 alone — and they certainly can’t be much interested in the rule of law, or they’d be outraged at the way those they apprehend treat our laws as a joke.

Hans Von Spakovsky, a former Justice Department official now at the Heritage Foundation, finds these numbers “appalling,” but raises the more important question of why these scofflaws are treated better than actual citizens, who cannot ignore court dates for the likes of a speeding ticket.

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The “comprehensive” immigration reform the president and his friends say we need seems to be off the table for now. In the meantime, Arizona and the Gulf Coast states are being overrun with more than just oil.

If the president has any interest in our national security or the rule of law, he might fire the folks who run ICE and hire people who are competent and dedicated to enforcing the laws the taxpayers pay them to enforce. 

That alone would be a significant reform.

Keene is chairman of the American Conservative Union and a managing associate with the Carmen Group, a Washington-based governmental consulting firm.