Raleigh, N.C. — The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina says emails obtained through a federal public records law show that the federal government was considering a plan that would encourage racial profiling in an effort to meet what the ACLU calls quotas to deport illegal immigrants.
Raul Pinto, a staff attorney for the group, said Monday that the U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement emails from May 2012 detail 10 initiatives to increase "criminal alien removals," including one such plan – the DMV Project – that would involve working with the state Division of Motor Vehicles.
"ICE was basically working under quotas," Pinto said. "They had to meet a certain number of deportations on a yearly basis or else there could be consequences."
The emails make mention of numbers falling short in the removal of criminal aliens – 1,200 fewer than the prior year out of the Atlanta region, which includes North Carolina.
The DMV Project involved getting access to a listing of denied driver's license applications and temporary licenses issued to foreign-born applicants.
"These types of policies breed racial profiling," Pinto said. "These policies, they catch and detain and interrogate folks who are here legally."
The emails were discovered as the ACLU was investigating complaints in May that immigration agents were questioning the immigration statuses of drivers during a seatbelt checkpoint in Jackson County.
Vincent Picard, spokesman for ICE's Atlanta Field Office says no such quotas exist but that it does have "targets" – performance goals required by Congress for budgetary reasons.
Immigration agents were at the Jackson County checkpoint, he said, at the request of the local sheriff's office.
Of the 15 people that ICE detained, Picard said, all but one had a criminal conviction and the other was in the country illegally after already being deported.
The DMV Project, he said, was never implemented.
Marge Howell, a spokeswoman for the DMV, said it routinely helps local, state and federal law enforcement agencies with investigations but that it has no agreement with ICE to report drivers or to provide information on those who apply for driver's licenses.
Picard said that, out of the other initiatives mentioned in the emails, only one is currently in place: "criminal alien surges" in which ICE agents work weekends and nights at local jails to identify illegal aliens who would normally be released before their immigration statuses could be investigated.
"ICE is focused on smart, effective enforcement that prioritizes the removal of criminal aliens, recent border crossers and egregious immigration law violators, such as those who have been previously removed from the United States," Picard said. "ICE’s 2012 year-end removal numbers highlight this focus."
Approximately 75 percent of people deported in the southern region were convicted criminals – 66 percent were serious offenders. Of the remaining who were deported, he said, nearly 1,500 had been previously convicted of DWI offenses.