What is behind the ICE initiative on illegal immigrants

It is my impression that the ICE raid on a 5,000 workforce, IFCO, netting over 1,000 illegal workers and a large handful of middle and low level managers, is 90% bark and 10% bite. There are several compelling reasons why ICE would undertake this kind of action, and several more why it will be hard to repeat on a regular basis. ICE needs to show that it had not abandoned enforcement of the illegal worker provisions of law passed in the 1980s – IRCA. Another motivation at this time – though the raid was apparently a year in planning – is Karl Rovian. It is efficient way to challenge the easy-does-it demeanor of congressional Democrats regarding day-to-day enforcement. It may be effective in putting the Democrats on the defensive, on this one single issue of national visibility around which the party has coalesced around, speaking with a common voice.
And here are the reasons why I think that ICE can pull off at best just a few raids of magnitude. First, they consume a lot of resources, and ICE has only 325 agents assigned to immigration law enforcement. Second, they take time, many months, to plan. Third, ICE may have thought through the downsides of such raids. They will focus on low level managers because it is much more difficult to establish the culpability of senior executives. They will elicit sympathy from a potentially large number of parties such as churches.
The Bush Administration would, I believe, prefer to focus on illegal immigrants who have not obeyed orders to leave the country or who have committed crimes (many of which I expect are minor). One major barrier prevents this: the execution of such a search and arrest program requires the participation of local police forces, who not only have shown they have other priorities, but who also are not used to working with this population. I note that the Georgia law just passed went so far as to require local law enforcement personnel to be certified to enforce immigration law. One way or the other, the Administrator will get into a tussle with local law enforcement it is leans on them to implement a policy hatched in Washington.

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