- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 23, 2008

With only eight takers since the program’s creation this month, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has decided to scrap its self-deportation program for illegal immigrants who previously had ignored court orders to leave the country.

The pilot program, which began Aug. 5 in five cities, officially ended Friday. It had been offered to the more than 457,000 illegal immigrants nationwide who ignored judicial orders to leave the country.

Known as “Scheduled Departure,” the plan gave illegal immigrants facing deportation a total of 90 days to turn themselves into ICE, allowing them to plan their departure date and to coordinate their travel plans with relatives instead of facing the prospect of being arrested, detained and deported.

The five cities were Charlotte, N.C., Chicago, Phoenix, San Diego and Santa Ana, Calif., and involved illegal immigrants who had no criminal history and posed no threat to the community.

“The bottom line is, it is not effective,” said Jim Hayes, acting director of ICE’s detention and removal operations. “Quite frankly, I think this proves the only method that works is enforcement.”

The plan was designed to complement ICE’s Fugitive Operations Program, which targets fugitive aliens for arrest and removal from the United States. ICE’s fugitive-operations teams give top priority to cases involving fugitive aliens who pose a threat to national security and community safety. So far during fiscal 2008, more than 26,000 fugitives and other immigration-status violators have been arrested.

There are 90 active fugitive-operations teams nationwide, with 14 more scheduled to be deployed in the next two months. The teams will continue to carry out targeted enforcement operations throughout the country.

Homeland Security Assistant Secretary Julie L. Myers, who heads ICE, had hoped the Scheduled Departure program would address concerns raised by aliens, community groups and immigration lawyers who said the agency had unnecessarily disrupted families while enforcing federal immigration law.

“By participating in the Scheduled Departure program, those who have had their day in court and have been ordered to leave the country have an opportunity to comply with the law and gain control of how their families are affected by their removal,” she said July 31 in announcing the plan.

Mrs. Myers had said the program could be expanded as ICE continues to evaluate it and that participation ended the risk of sudden arrest and detention for certain noncriminal fugitives.

She said it was aimed at ensuring that those illegal immigrants’ families would “particularly benefit from this program” - allowing those who qualified to make removal arrangements without being held in custody and easing their transition and minimizing the impact of their removal on their families.

There are an estimated 572,000 fugitives aliens in the United States, including 457,000 who do not have criminal histories. An ICE fugitive is defined as an alien who has failed to depart the United States based upon a final order of removal, deportation, or exclusion from a U.S. immigration judge, or who has failed to report to ICE after receiving notice to do so.

Those who took part in the program were a Guatemalan man and a Lebanese man in Santa Ana, a Mexican woman in San Diego, an Estonian man in Phoenix, a Guatemalan man and Indian couple in Chicago, and a Salvadoran man in Charlotte, according to ICE.

They are barred from returning to the United States for 10 years.

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