ICE’s “smart and effective” immigration enforcement policies again have proven to be neither. The Milford Daily News reported this week that our local ICE Field Office lost track of a key witness in the Matt Denice death-by-illegal-alien-drunk-driving case. This happened because ICE officials decided to release the witness, Luis Acosta, an Ecuadoran illegal alien who had fled twice before and also faced state charges, on an electronic monitoring bracelet rather than detain him.
Local authorities became alarmed when Acosta did not appear to testify at a grand jury hearing on October 6th. Apparently he cut off the monitoring device on October 1 (or before) and was traced by cell phone records to Kennedy airport in New York on October 6. He is believed to have fled back to Ecuador, a country that we now know (from the Brockton illegal alien murderer case) does not extradite its citizens to the United States. Milford police and Worcester County prosecutors are angry because ICE never informed them that Acosta’s bracelet had been cut, apparently because ICE and its monitoring contractor did not notice, perhaps because of what ICE is calling a “technology failure.”
The real failure seems to have been ICE’s decision to put Acosta, who also uses five other names, on a bracelet to begin with. After the Denice killing, he fled the state and it took two days for police to find and capture him. Acosta has been in ICE custody before, in Missouri, for involvement in who knows what criminal activity. In addition, he has been charged in Massachusetts previously for driving without a license. Look up “flight risk” in the dictionary, and I’ll bet you’ll find Acosta’s picture.
But ICE decided Acosta was a “minor offender” of the type that immigration enforcement softies like Gov. Patrick and Mayor Menino think should be trusted to respect the law and show up for their court dates.
Since the beginning, the Obama administration has sought to reduce reliance on detention as a tool to help enforce the law, suggesting that it is cruel and unnecessary. They even took the word “detention” out of the name of the division responsible for it; the office of Detention and Removal Operations became Enforcement and Removal Operations. To make the process easier on illegal aliens, ICE has increased use of electronic monitoring bracelets as an alternative to detention. Little information has been released, but the results seem mixed at best, with some reports of high rates of non-compliance, or absconding. A senior ICE enforcement manager told me the other day that ICE is finding out that electronic monitoring is not particularly cost-effective, either.
In the immigration context, detention is not for punishment; it is necessary to enable agents to enforce removal orders and ensure that aliens who are charged with violations actually will show up in court. This is not a small problem; my organization has found that at least half the aliens who have been freed pending trial did not appear for their hearing. The total number of absconders is now believed to be more than 700,000, up from 400,000 during the Bush administration, which managed to reduce the numbers.
This case is a perfect example of why there needs to be more detention of illegal aliens, not less, and especially those who have been charged with other crimes. This can be accomplished without overwhelming either the detention or the immigration court system, through more use of expedited removal, a streamlined process that would enable ICE to efficiently deal with the minor cases and free up resources for special cases. It’s also a good argument for 287(g), the program several Mass. sheriffs are seeking, which would allow local officers to decide how to handle these cases with less interference from Washington politics.