Gung-Ho Deportationists

In recent months, amid the furor over immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has come under criticism and even calls for its abolition because of allegedly over-aggressive actions.

Some of the criticism is warranted, some is not.

This week, the agency gave its critics a pile of ammunition with which to shoot it down, after an outrage committed against an innocent man was rectified only following an outcry in the media.

Jose Gonzalez Carranza, the husband of a U.S. Army soldier killed in combat in Afghanistan, was detained and deported to Mexico last week, even though he had been granted permission to stay in the country.

Gonzalez Carranza came to the U.S. illegally when he was a teenager. He married Barbara Vieyra, who was killed in 2010. Carranza was accorded “parole in place” status by immigration authorities after her death, his lawyer said. The law allows undocumented relatives of military members to stay in the United States without fear of deportation.

But, in a move deserving of a place in the annals of bureaucratic bungling, Carranza was deported anyway.

In a frightening and humiliating scene almost as bad as the infamous “knock on the door in the middle of the night” — except that it was carried out on a road at dawn — Carranza was stopped by an armed posse and summarily arrested. He was ordered to pull over at 5 a.m. while on his way to work in Phoenix by officers that he said were wearing bulletproof vests, helmets and military gear.

“I had seven or eight cops yelling at me and pointing guns at me,” he said. “When they took me in, I asked them, ‘Who are you?’ and they said nothing, only that I have an order to be arrested.”

Subsequently, it emerged that the deportation occurred because Carranza had failed to appear for a court hearing about his case. His lawyer explained that the reason for his client’s non-compliance was due to the fact that ICE’s notice was sent to an old address. In other words, he never knew that he was supposed to be at the hearing. The judge deemed him a no-show, and with no further attempt to contact him, the cops were sent to get him.

After he was dumped in Nogales, Mexico, he tried through a lawyer to contact ICE for some explanation. No response. Until, that is, the press was informed and the story was printed. Within hours, agents brought Carranza back from the border at Nogales and deposited him in Phoenix late Monday.

Given the opaqueness of the agency’s handling of the case, it is impossible to know at this time how the correction was made. Perhaps, as soon as the incident came to the attention of a senior official at ICE, who realized the blunder, immediate action was taken. At least the agency might be credited with that.

It is still not clear what led to the revocation of Carranza’s “parole in place,” but hopefully that will come to light in an as-yet-unscheduled hearing.

Whether the circumstances of this particular injustice are clarified or not, an investigation into the procedures of ICE is in order at this point. Who knows which other victims of gung-ho deportationists will come forward to tell their harrowing tales? In the meantime, Carranza should receive some compensation for the unnecessary hardship caused by an unlawful deportation.

Representative Mark Pocan of Wisconsin and fellow Democrat Pramila Jayapal from Seattle have already proposed “eliminating the agency as it stands, and restructuring its functions, starting from scratch,” Jayapal told The Seattle Times.

Such an extreme stance is unwarranted and absurd. ICE has about 7,900 full-time employees and a $3.8 billion budget, as of 2017, and “eliminating” it is no minor matter. As controversial as its work often is, and as disturbing as foul-ups like the Carranza case may be, ICE does some very important work as well.

To be sure, anything that touches on immigration is skewed by partisan interests. The Democrats want to exploit ICE’s excesses for electoral gain, while the Republicans insist that the agency staff does a good job under difficult conditions.

Yet changes must be made. Jayapal says that there still needs to be enforcement of immigration laws, “but it must be without cruelty and abuse.”

That’s something on which both major political parties should be able to agree. The question is how best to accomplish that goal.