Michele Waslin [Senior Policy Analyst, Immigration Policy Center, American Immigration Law Foundation]: "This week, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that it had suspended its latest immigration enforcement experiment. Dubbed as ICE's "compassionately conceived enforcement initiative," Operation Scheduled Departure [factsheet] was a five-city pilot program that would allow immigrants with outstanding orders of removal to report to ICE to make arrangements to voluntarily leave the U.S. ICE would release them with ankle bracelet monitoring systems and give them up to 90 days to make arrangements for their families before leaving. The program was abandoned after netting a grand total of eight takers. However immigrant advocates have feared that the effort now allows ICE to unleash its Fugitive Operations Teams for door-to-door operations and conduct additional worksite raids, self-righteously claiming that they gave immigration violators a chance to be deported compassionately.
Four days after suspending the program, ICE launched the largest worksite raid to date, arresting over 600 workers in a Mississippi electrical equipment plant, once again tearing apart families, disrupting businesses, causing detriment to entire communities, and costing the federal government millions of dollars.
Anti-immigrant groups, most notably the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), have been confidently reporting that increased enforcement has been successful and that undocumented immigrants are, in fact, leaving the U.S. The recent CIS report is marred with dubious data and questionable methodology. It is nearly impossible to accurately measure the undocumented population, and if there has been a decline in the numbers, serious academics agree that hit has much more to do with the downturn in the economy rather than any enforcement measure. The restrictionists' solution is to encourage the government to continue spending billions of taxpayer dollars on worksite raids and border fencing. Yet serious researchers concluded long ago that undocumented immigration is driven by economics and that the tens of billions of taxpayer dollars spent on immigration enforcement over the past two decades have done virtually nothing to dissuade undocumented immigrants from coming here when there are jobs to fill.
The failure of Operation Scheduled Departure serves to highlight the realities of our broken immigration system. The U.S. cannot expect to deport its way out of its current problems, and it cannot expect immigrants to simply choose to leave. There are approximately 12 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., 4.4 million of whom have been in the country since the year 2000, and an estimated 14.6 million people living in mixed families with U.S. citizen spouses and children. It is highly improbable that people who are firmly integrated into our communities will voluntary choose to uproot themselves and ask to be torn from their families and livelihood. Even with the downturn of the economy, it is still unlikely that undocumented workers will return to countries that provide drastically fewer economic opportunities than the worst-hit communities here at home. The U.S. needs a practical, fair, and reasonable solution to immigration that includes smart enforcement measures. Neither Operation Scheduled Departure nor the recent raid in Mississippi will significantly reduce the undocumented population and nor will it address a fundamental issue of the mismatch of our outdated immigration laws with enduring laws of supply or demand, in this case for immigrant labor. Instead, they will drive undocumented immigrants further underground, denying the government additional tax dollars and allowing unscrupulous employers to continue exploiting a vulnerable labor force."