In 2013 America removed 369,000 undocumented migrants, an increase of nine times compared with 20 years ago. This takes the total number of the deported to almost 2m in Barack Obama’s presidency…On one measure this is a great success. It is hard to find many areas where the federal government is so effective in implementing laws passed by Congress. Yet it is harmful—not just for the deported, who often have a miserable time once they are expelled but for the country they leave behind, something which even the deporters have come to recognise….Much of that spending has created a border agency that can operate throughout the country. Before the September 11th 2001 attacks it was considered a threat to liberty for agencies to share too much information. After the report of the 9/11 Commission the opposite became true. The result is that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency charged with doing the deporting, can now quickly determine whether someone serving a prison sentence for a serious crime is eligible to be deported when their time is up. More controversially, it also allows ICE to see whether someone charged by the police with relatively minor offences can also be deported.
Of the 369,000 people deported last year, roughly two-thirds were people who had been stopped while trying to cross the border. The rest—134,000 of them—were picked up in the interior of the country…Some people take more drastic steps to avoid triggering a match on the database. In November ICE arrested a doctor in Boston who flew in regularly from the Dominican Republic to alter fingerprints. A full set of unrecognisable fingertips cost $4,500.
While the police have been tracking down migrants, the Department for Homeland Security has continued to raid workplaces and audit companies to see if they employ undocumented workers. In November Infosys, an Indian IT firm, agreed to pay fines of $34m for immigration offences. …The number of people deported is largely determined by the number of beds available in detention centres, which are the holding pens for the people America expels. Each year Congress mandates funding for a certain number of beds for immigration detention and stipulates that the occupancy rate must be kept high. In 2013 that number was 34,000. Some of these places are run by private companies for ICE, like the one in Pearsall, a small Texas town decorated with churches, car-parts shops and a high-school football field. The facility can house up to 1,800 men at any one time, sleeping on iron bunk-beds in dormitories of up to 100. This is not a prison but it has few windows, is surrounded by fences topped with razor wire and is run by the GEO Group, a company that also runs prisons…The government has to make sure that the countries where detainees were born will have them back. In rare cases this proves impossible. Families for Freedom, an NGO, says it is working with a Kenyan man who has been in immigration detention in New York for eight years. From the detention centres the deportees are rounded up and put on planes. ICE has its own air operations division which flew 44 charter flights a week in 2013, and runs a daily flight to deposit people in Central America. When flying to more unusual destinations, an ICE agent will babysit the deportee on a commercial flight.
America’s deportation machine: The great expulsion, Economist, Feb. 8, 2014, at 23