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"Operation Scheduled Departure": More PR Than Policy

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By Aswini Anburajan

Operation Scheduled Departure, a new federal initiative that ‘encourages’ illegal immigrants to voluntarily step forward and leave the country without being detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), will launch August 5th in five cities across the United States.

The initiative was labeled part of the "theater of the absurd" by pro-immigration reform groups, who noted that ICE seems unable to understand that illegal immigrants are in the U.S. because they wish to live here and that few would come forward.

Nonetheless the program may provide ICE with a PR advantage as they escalate the pace of raids across the country and detain more undocumented immigrants.

ICE has designated more than 570,000 people "fugitive aliens," individuals who have been scheduled for deportation but have not violated the law. Under the new program, these individuals would receive federal assistance to leave the country, in some cases including travel costs, and 90 days to get their affairs in order.

News reports that followed our initial reporting Wednesday on the new initiative said that the program was in part born out of increased ICE raids that are "crowding detention centers and clogging immigration courts, eliciting criticism from immigration advocates and human-rights organizations." ICE Director Julie Myers recently noted the agency deported a record number of undocumented immigrants last year; over 270,000. ICE has also faced criticism for an increase in fatalities among detained immigrants. There are 31,000 individuals in detention nationwide.

The program may give cover to the growing number of raids nationwide by allowing government officials to say, 'Well, once they are detained, there are humane options for them to go back to their countries of origin."

Take the public relations nightmare that followed the Postville, Iowa, raid, where immigrants languished in makeshift detention centers, separated from their families. ICE was harshly criticized for acting inhumanely, but if there was a program in place that could rapidly move individuals out of the country, criticism that the federal government is avoiding due process may be sidestepped.

Critics say this is a dangerous facade. The program gives the appearance that immigrants have no legal redress once they are detained, according to Ali Noorani, Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum, who spoke on Fox News yesterday.

"So what happens is that when a person is detained, they do have an option for voluntary deportation," Noorani said. "Oftentimes, an immigration officer will give the individual a piece of paper that has that box pre-checked and says, ‘Please sign that.’ That is not due process. That is not fair treatment. In essence, I think it has been eliminating the opportunity for a detainee to actually even see a day in court by handing them this piece of paper and saying, ‘Here is your voluntary deportation.’"

Some anti-immigration advocates said the program is humane in that it provides individuals with a grace period and the possibility of returning to the U.S., which they cannot do if they are deported involuntarily.

Mark Krikorian, of the Center for Immigration Studies, argued that the program gives "the illegals a kind of break, actually" on Fox News yesterday.

On some level perhaps it does, but it certainly gives ICE a beak.

Read more at Feet in 2 Worlds, where this post originally appeared.