- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 19, 2019

An illegal immigrant was ordered deported in 2013, and ICE had a flight lined up to take him to Pakistan. But he refused to board the plane, thwarting the effort.

When ICE tried again, the man then claimed he was actually from Somalia, and renounced his Pakistani citizenship. But he refused to provide enough information to authorities to arrange his deportation to Somalia, blocking his deportation again.

After more back-and-forth, he finally agreed to his Pakistani citizenship, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement once again asked the government there to take him back. As of a Homeland Security inspector general’s review, he’d been in custody four years.

SEE ALSO: Border Patrol catches 400 illegal immigrants in five minutes

The inspector general’s audit, released last week, showed that while arresting illegal immigrants may be a challenge these days, actually getting them to leave the U.S. can be even tougher, as officers confront balky countries overseas, legal appeals at home and the migrants’ own shenanigans.

ICE sets a goal of trying to deport people within 90 days of taking them into custody. But of 13,217 people detained as of Dec. 13, 2017, 23 percent of them had already exhausted the full 90 days, and even three months after that, nearly half were still stuck in detention. Some, like the Pakistani man, wait years.

“We give them too many bites at the apple,” said Jessica Vaughan, an expert at the Center for Immigration Studies, who reviewed the inspector general’s report.

“Without a doubt, ICE now faces some significant challenges to removing even the most unsympathetic cases,” Ms. Vaughan said, “with the biggest problem being that it is too easy to abuse the overly generous due process that our courts have provided to deportable aliens.”

Investigators singled out one case where a Mexican migrant had been ordered deported by an immigration judge, then challenged that in the regular courts. The migrant lost at the circuit court, ICE moved the person to a staging location in preparation for deportation.

But the new location was in a different court circuit, and the migrant filed a new court challenge with the district court, lost there, and then appealed to the new circuit’s court of appeals. As of the inspector general’s review the migrant had been detained for more than three years, at a cost of more than $36,000 per year.

Those sorts of legal delays accounted for more than half of migrants’ extended stays in detention.

The second-biggest hiccup was trying to get foreign countries to accept their people back, which accounted for 31 percent of the delays, according to the audit.

Investigators found a staggering 116 jurisdictions were deemed either uncooperative or “at risk” of failing to cooperate with U.S. deportation authorities at some point between July 2015 and May 2018. They ranged from regular thorns in the side of U.S. policy, such as China and Cuba, to usually friendly nations such as the United Kingdom, Sweden and Norway.

If delays reach six months, the migrants are usually just released back into the U.S. Investigators said that happened in about 40 percent of the cases where a government was recalcitrant.

Even so, that’s likely a major improvement from the Obama years. In July 2015 ICE listed 85 countries as uncooperative or at risk. By last May that was down to 33 countries.

Ms. Vaughan called that “one of the relatively unheralded successes of the Trump administration,” and credited Homeland Security and the State Department for being willing to punish bad-actor countries.

Still, the inspector general said things could be better.

Investigators said the yardsticks ICE uses to judge other countries’ cooperation — and to recommend the State Department slap visa sanctions on those who don’t play ball — are “not completely reliable.” ICE also doesn’t have a coherent method for figuring out when to end visa sanctions.

For example, Guinea and Sierra Leone had some visas stripped in 2017, despite being listed only as “at risk” at the time. Both countries have improved and earned their way into the realm of cooperative — but remain under sanctions anyway.

Meanwhile constant bad actors China, Cuba, Iran and Vietnam, regularly deemed fully uncooperative, have not been sanctioned.

In one case a Cuban migrant was in detention and regularly attacked other migrants and the facility’s staff. He was diagnosed with mental health issues.

Because Cuba wouldn’t issue documents to take him back, ICE eventually just released him.

In another case a convicted sex offender from Eritrea had arrived in the U.S. as a child and didn’t have any identity documents. He also didn’t speak Eritrean. So when the Eritrean government interviewed him, it refused to acknowledge him as a citizen, forcing ICE to release him into the U.S.

The audit also found ICE struggles to figure out the most efficient ways to deport people, picking between charter flights and commercial airlines. Some charters for high-risk deportees can take months to arrange, leading to more delays.

And migrants themselves can thwart deportation by lying about their citizenship or refusing to help request travel documents from their home countries.

One Indian man in the inspector general’s audit said he didn’t mind staying in ICE custody because it was preferable to be locked up here rather than go back to India. ICE finally got documents from India, but then encountered flight delays. The man had been in custody more than three years at the time of the audit.

The inspector general studied the population in ICE detention, or what those in the industry call the “detained docket.”

Those cases are supposed to move much faster than the non-detained docket, where migrants are free in the communities, and it can take years for their cases to be decided — and they often disappear into the shadows and ignore the courts altogether.

In its official response to the report, ICE said most of the hurdles the inspector general identified are out of the agency’s control, such as relying on foreign countries or the legal system.

But ICE promised to better manage its own staff levels, improve training of deportation officers and come up with a better scheduling system to streamline removals.

ICE also said it will roll out a system next year that tracks how well the agency is doing in getting travel documents to facilitate deportation.

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