Tens of thousands of foreigners pursuing immigration appeals could face arrest and jail under a policy change being tested by the federal government, say Tribune Newspapers. Begun this month in Atlanta and Denver, Operation Compliance is designed to curb the problem of “absconders” –some 300,000 to 400,000 scofflaws in the U.S. in defiance of orders to leave. Immigration and Customs Enforcement assigned to immigration courts are promptly arresting people who are ordered to leave the country after losing their cases, which are usually civil, not criminal. They are held in immigration detention sites until they exhaust their appeals or post bond. “It’s a drastic step in minimizing any future growth of absconders,” said Steven Branch, a federal immigration official.
Immigration lawyers say the program singles out people with no criminal records who are pursuing their rights within the U.S. legal system. Often, bail is set higher than those detained can possibly afford. They argue that Operation Compliance gives no consideration to asylum seekers, whose accounts of persecution in their homelands are often heart-wrenching but sometimes difficult to assess.
Most foreigners who appealed an immigration decision have been allowed to remain free. Those who lost and agreed to leave the country voluntarily were generally given time to get their affairs in order, usually after posting a modest bond. The policy has been abused, the government says. Officials estimate that nearly 90 percent of those who are ordered to leave the country but not detained end up staying in defiance of the law.
A smaller-scale test of Operation Compliance was carried out last fall in Hartford, Conn., with inconclusive results. If tests go well in Atlanta and Denver, the program could be expanded to larger cities. It could become part of the Homeland Security Department’s strategy for expelling all foreigners who are found deportable, a six-year plan known as Endgame.