Over 25 panelists from universities, nonprofit organizations and departments of the federal government gathered for “A Round Table on Deportations and National Security” on Monday in the Friend Center’s Convocation Room.
The event focused on the recent rise in deportations and the relationship between national security and immigration policy, concentrating on the roles of the Department of Homeland Security and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
According to a statement announcing the event, approximately 400,000 individuals were deported in 2010, nearly a DHS record. Since 2007, over 1.3 million people have been deported, some with criminal records but many without.
A key debate revolved around the legitimacy of basing immigration laws in national security arguments.
Edward Alden, a senior fellow on the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C., and former Washington bureau chief for the Financial Times, argued that 9/11 “helped solidify the notion that illegal immigration poses a significant security threat,” which has since become the norm.
“The overwhelming majority of those subjected [to deportation] do not pose any sort of security threat — terrorist, criminal or otherwise,” he said. “The Obama administration can’t possibly embrace the notion that all illegal immigrants should be deported ... Therefore, the public justification is that its enforcement policy is only aimed at those who pose a security threat.”
Such policies, especially ICE’s Secure Communities program, came under heavy fire during the panel. The program allows ICE to use biometric identification technology to find criminal immigrant aliens. ICE then categorizes the aliens by severity of their crime and criminal history and takes legal removal or detainment actions.
Criticism of the program included its effectiveness in rooting out security threats and racial profiling, as well as the lack of social frameworks to support legal citizen children of detained or deported parents.
University sociology professor Alejandro Portes, who is also the director of the Center for Migration and Development, focused on the grim prospects for kin of the detained, namely the “emergence of a population growing up in conditions of singularity and isolation.”
“By seeking to solve the pressing problem [of illegal immigration], we may be creating a vast new one for the future,” Portes said.
Julia Preston, a national immigration correspondent for The New York Times, presided over the discussion and spoke about the importance of ICE’s recognizing local legal contexts, especially in light of state-level legislation to punish illegal immigration.
She cited as an example a Georgia state law that makes driving without a license a detainable offense. “That puts many immigrants ... into a whole immigration database even though driving without a license is not a serious offense,” Preston explained.
Former principal Deputy General Counsel of DHS and current University of Virginia professor David Martin recognized the program’s imperfections in determining threat levels of identified immigrants.
“It’s imprecise,” he said. “It will leave some hard cases on either side of the line. But that is the way it needs to proceed.”
John Morton, the director of ICE, defended the program from the severe backlash of the other panelists and the audience.
“Do you want us to be [removing immigrants] on an ad hoc basis? Or would you rather have us removing [illegal immigrants] from jails?” he asked. “I think the answer has to be the latter.”
Other panelists included U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.), who is the former assistant director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, and Kevin Wilkes ’83, president of the Princeton Borough Council.
The event was sponsored by the Latin American studies program in collaboration with the Center for Migration and Development, the Program in Latino Studies and the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund.