A set of e-mails obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina show U.S. immigration officials developed strategies to increase the number of deportations so they could surpass the previous year's record deportation numbers.
Federal immigration authorities have claimed to target people who pose a threat to public safety but these email show officials targeted immigrants convicted of minor crimes.
"These recently reported documents suggest that ICE's 'targeted' approach may have less to do with public safety or a focus on serious crimes, and more to do with the agency's laser focus on meeting deportation levels," said Seth Freed Wessler, Colorlines.com's investigative reporter.
Wessler says the documents provide evidence to support what advocates have long argued: immigration enforcement as it's currently practiced looks more like a dragnet than a harpoon.
Among those new tactics - detailed in interviews and internal e-mails - were trolling state driver's license records for information about foreign-born applicants, dispatching U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to traffic safety checkpoints conducted by police departments, and processing more illegal immigrants who had been booked into jails for low-level offenses. Records show ICE officials in Washington approved some of those steps.
In April, officials told field office heads to map plans to increase removals, then instructed at least one field office that supervises enforcement throughout Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina to go ahead with efforts to mine DMV records and step up their efforts to deport people who had been booked into county jails, among other measures.
ICE spokeswoman Gillian Christensen told USA Today in a statement that "ICE does not have quotas." She said the agency sets "annual performance goals" that "reflect the agency's commitment to using the limited resources provided by Congress."
Immigration advocates say this news doesn't come as a surprise.
"The revelations about the Obama Administration's deportation quotas are shocking, but not a suprise" said Arturo Carmona, Executive Director of Presente.org. "Anyone who knows the hard working people that the Administration is calling 'criminals,' who are being jailed by the thousands and deported by the millions, knows that government officials have such internal quotas. Other officials do an injustice to us all when they repeat false claims that there is some sort of legal mandate to deport 400,000 people a year. There's not. And now everybody can see the 'bonuses,' deceit and dirty politics behind the immigrant tragedy."
Chris Newman, Legal Director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network says the findings are offensive.
"Setting immigration policy by a deportation quota runs counter to every talking point the Obama administration has used in the past five years. It has endangered public safety. It offends both constitutional values and has led to grave civil rights violations," Newman said.
"It's the exact reason why the first step in immigration reform must be a suspension of deportations," Newman went on to say.