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383,524 and Counting

April 5, 2010

Last year, 383,524 immigrants were detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency within the Department of Homeland Security responsible for enforcing immigration laws. That’s over a third of a million people.

For the sake of comparison, the number of Quakers worldwide is about 360,000.

Immigration detention has drastically expanded in the past fifteen years. The number of immigrants held annually in jail-like detention facilities has tripled since 1996. Even under the Obama administration, these numbers keep on rising.

To justify this dramatic increase, ICE officials have repeatedly stated that the agency focuses on arresting, detaining, and deporting “dangerous criminal aliens” who pose a threat to public safety or national security.

Now, a recent ICE memo leaked to the press indicates that ICE is trying to arrest and detain as many people as possible – not just dangerous criminals – in order to meet quotas. According to the memo, ICE has set a goal of detaining at least 400,000 immigrants in 2010. To meet this goal, the memo continues, ICE plans to ramp up efforts to catch undocumented immigrants who had never committed a violent crime – because they can be deported more quickly than those with criminal backgrounds.  (ICE later withdrew the memo but declined to offer a public explanation for why it had originally been issued.)

To catch more non-criminal immigrants, ICE relies on controversial local enforcement programs. These programs authorize police officers to enforce immigration laws. As a recent governmental report indicates, local enforcement programs lack oversight and have resulted in the widespread use of racial profiling.

As a result, more people get trapped in the broken immigration system every year. Immigration prosecutions have skyrocketed in recent years, overwhelming the courts. Immigration judges lack the resources to process immigration cases in a timely manner. Tens of thousands of immigrants languish in detention facilities as they wait for their cases to be heard, costing taxpayers millions of dollars.

Yet ICE continues to insist that its methods are justified.

This is backwards reasoning. Taxpayers’ money should not be wasted on expensive and ineffective enforcement programs. You can’t deport your way into a workable immigration system.

We’ve tried the enforcement-only approach, and it doesn’t work. We urgently need immigration reform in order to create a legal immigration system that works for everyone.

Urge your members of Congress to support immigration reform. FCNL has created a new set of talking points for you to use when you contact your senators and representatives. Write a letter to your representative or schedule a lobby visit with your senator today!

To learn more about immigration reform, read FCNL’s Statement of Principles on Immigration Reform. Stay up to date by signing up for our Immigration Network list serve, which distributes monthly updates about FCNL’s work on immigration.

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