ICE Director: U.S. Immigration Law Requires Removal of Illegal Aliens, Deporting Non-Criminals ‘Quite Rare’

Penny Starr | June 12, 2012 | 2:22pm EDT
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ICE Director John Morton. (AP Photo)

( – In an interview with National Public Radio’s “Weekend Edition” on Saturday, John Morton, director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, told host Scott Simon that U.S. immigration laws require the removal of aliens who are in the country illegally, but that those without criminal records are “not our priority.”

In the June 9 interview, Simon asked Morton about charges by some critics of his agency that illegal aliens were being rounded up for minor infractions like a broken taillight and being deported.

“Now, we spoke with Mary Meg McCarthy, who’s executive director of Heartland Alliance's National Immigrant Justice Center in Chicago, and she says that they often see cases of illegal immigrants who have no criminal record being deported or people who were just stopped for minor infractions like a broken taillight,” Simon said.

“Sometime it's something as simple as a broken taillight, right? They may be stopped for and the next thing you know, they're facing deportation from the United States after living here for years,” McCarthy said.

“You wouldn't dispute that, necessarily,” Simon said.

“The immigration laws of the United States provide that people can be removed simply for being here unlawfully. And obviously, our job is to enforce the law. And while we do remove people without criminal convictions, the scenario that she lays out of people who've been here for a very long period of time and have no criminal record and are removed from the United States is, in fact, quite rare,” Morton replied.

“Those people are not our priority, and we don't seek to remove them in large numbers,” Morton said.

Simon also asked Morton about the 25 percent increase in agents responsible for the identification and deportation of illegal aliens with criminal records that was put into place last month.

The increase, which began without public notice on May 14, increases the number of fugitive operations teams from 104 to 129. Each team has been given a goal of arresting 50 suspects per month, according to documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times/Tribune Washington Bureau.

In his interview with Simon, however, Morton said, “we don't assign a given number of individuals to arrest.”

Simon concluded the interview by asking Morton if the increase in agents was political in nature.

“I reject that assertion,” Simon said. “Listen, we are trying to make the best of a difficult set of circumstances.

“We have come up with what we believe to be a rational set of priorities that focus on criminal offenders, border security and people who game the system,” Morton said. “And at the same time, advocate for long-term immigration reform that deals in a rational way with the large number of people who've lived here for a very, very long period of time and for whom removal, as a class, really isn't the answer.”

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