- Associated Press - Saturday, March 11, 2017

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - To Sister Janet Horstman, they were the bad days.

Immigration agents descending on meat packing plants in the Midwest and loading hundreds of undocumented immigrants onto buses, destined for detention centers and deportation. Sometimes they left behind children in schools with nobody to pick them up or pregnant wives about to deliver babies.

“The reality behind it is horrific,” she said. “I would never want to live through that again.”

For Horstman, an immigration legal specialist with the Presentation Sisters in Sioux Falls, the question she has is whether she’ll be living through those days again - or worse.

President Trump is making good on a campaign promise to crack down on illegal immigration, releasing a plan this month that calls for greater border security, streamlined deportation proceedings and an additional 10,000 Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents for interior enforcement operations - a 50 percent increase in manpower for the agency. Though officials cautioned following the release of Trump’s plan that ICE would focus on criminals, Horstman views the 10,000 new ICE agents with alarm.

“I look at that and say he’s putting a deportation force together,” she said.

The Argus Leader (https://argusne.ws/2mmt3QR ) reports that supporters of Trump’s plan hope the new agents are a deportation force. Mark Krikorian, the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for reduced immigration, said the additional agents would be useful to process undocumented immigrants in county jails and to staff fugitive operations teams focused on finding nearly one million people who have already been ordered deported but slipped away instead.

“There’s almost a million people like that,” Krikorian said. “Most of them are not gangbangers or rapists, but they are literally spitting on the legal process. There is plenty of work for ICE to do.”

How much of that work will occur in Sioux Falls and the surrounding region? It’s a question asked on both sides of the issue.

“I really haven’t heard of much activity here since (Trump) took office,” Horstman said. “I keep expecting that will change, but I don’t know.”

“He certainly has people scared,” she added. “I’ve had numerous calls and people coming in frightened about getting picked up.”

Data on immigration enforcement within specific communities is difficult to come by. ICE, an agency of the Department of Homeland Security, is notorious for its lack of transparency. An ICE spokesman in St. Paul, Minnesota, did not return a message.

Outside of the federal government, the most comprehensive data on immigration enforcement exists with the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University. TRAC uses requests under the Freedom of Information Act to obtain government data on a variety of issues, including immigration enforcement.

During fiscal year 2016, ICE removed an average of 1,250 people a week nationally, according to TRAC’s analysis. But only a small number - less than 300 a week - were deported as a result of being picked up at work or in their homes.

The majority of deportations occurred when ICE took people in custody who had been arrested by another law enforcement agency. ICE issues detainers to local law enforcement agencies on immigrants - both documented and undocumented - who are identified by ICE as having broken laws eligible for deportation.

But since 2011, the number of detainers issued by ICE has fallen dramatically, from a high of under 310,000 to 13,253, according to TRAC’s analysis. That period of time saw the Obama administration focus deportations on undocumented immigrants who committed serious crimes.

But even after ICE issued a detainer, the agency failed to take custody of a person less than 40 percent of the time by the end of 2015. An even smaller number of those taken into custody were deported. The data, said Susan Long, a co-director at TRAC, show that it’s “pretty rare” for a detainer to result in a deportation.

“It raises all sorts of questions about the efficacy of the program,” Long said.

In South Dakota, there were about 2,700 detainers issued by ICE to local jails between 2005 and 2015, according to TRAC. The majority were in Minnehaha County.

Jeff Gromer, the warden at the Minnehaha County Jail, said ICE, which has a local office in Sioux Falls, typically responds quickly when an inmate with a detainer is ready to be released. ICE picks up the inmate and transports the person to another detention facility.

“We don’t have a contract with ICE, so we’re not an ICE holding facility,” he said. “I don’t know where they take them.”

It’s unclear how many people picked up in South Dakota end up being deported. That data is not public.

“ICE contends they can’t tell,” Long said. “That’s nonsense. They have an integrated database that tracks all events.”

Without historic data, it’s unclear how much of a departure Trump’s policies will be compared to the previous administration. Sioux Falls immigration lawyer Henry Evans said he has not seen any changes. Even though ICE focused on criminals over the last few years, the reality is that anyone living here illegally is at risk.

“Anyone who is undocumented, you’re fair game,” Evans said. “Always have been.”

“I’m expecting basically the same status quo until it’s here,” he added.

The sooner the new policies are in place, the better for supporters like Krikorian. He worries that hiring 10,000 new ICE agents will take a long time, but he also wants to make sure it’s done right.

Ultimately, he added, it’s about rolling back the Obama-era policy of ignoring large numbers of undocumented immigrants and restoring the approaches to immigration enforcement used by the Clinton and Bush administrations.

“The Clinton and Bush administrations, for all their faults, did not say ICE agents were not allowed to arrest whole categories of illegal immigrants,” Krikorian said.

But to Horstman, who lived in Omaha during the Clinton years and saw the fallout from immigration raids, she doesn’t want those years to return when it comes to immigration enforcement. The majority of people in the country illegally have been here longer than 10 years. They have U.S. born children. They have established lives.

“My hope is we’ll remain under the radar screen and not get the attention,” she said.

___

Information from: Argus Leader, https://www.argusleader.com

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