The Bush Administration’s days of targeting “criminal aliens” for deportation are not over. This week, President Obama’s new Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said that she also wants to prioritize removing “criminal aliens” from our neighborhoods. One of her goals, according to an article in the New York Times, is to increase information sharing by local, state, and federal prison officials. Targeting individuals with criminal records, “sounds very simple,” the Times reports Napolitano said, “but it’s historically not been done.”
Napolitano couldn’t be more wrong. Immigration and criminal law have been used together since at least the early 1900s. One of the problems with the targeting of “criminal aliens” is that rhetoric often wins out over reality. A perfect modern case-in-point is the definition of “aggravated felony.” This little phrase sounds menacing, but includes many actions which are neither aggravated nor normally considered felonies.
Also this week Napolitano release her Immigration & Border Security Action Directive, a four-page summary of key areas of concern for the Obama Administration regarding immigration and our nation’s borders. In the Directive, Napolitano asks how the new administration can accelerate the development and expansion of the Secure Communities Program, an initiative to promote cooperation by local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies “to identify and remove aliens unlawfully present who are involved in criminal activity.” Napolitano also wants to know what measures are needed to expand the Institutional Removal Program, an effort that “facilitates the entry of final removal orders before aliens convicted of crimes are released from criminal custody.” From the perspective of an immigration lawyer, it’s rather concerning that the new Secretary of Homeland Security wants to order individuals removed before they are even transferred to ICE’s custody. Will they see an immigration judge? Will they have access to an immigration lawyer?