|US Immigration and Customs Enforcement launched a new program Tuesday that allows certain illegal immigrants to coordinate their removal from the US with ICE without the risk of home raids, arrest or detention. The Scheduled Departure Program, a pilot program that will run through August 22 in five major cities, is designed for illegal immigrants without criminal records who have ignored official removal orders. According to the ICE press release:
The agency recognizes there are those less inclined to accept the intentions of such a compassionately conceived enforcement initiative, but remains committed to providing sensible alternatives that balance the welfare of the individuals and families in question with its clear obligation to uphold the law.
The Scheduled Departure Program will not alter a participant's immigration status or provide any immigration benefit. The program is not a form of voluntary departure or voluntary return. Participants will continue to have a final order of removal, deportation or exclusion.
ICE stressed that illegal immigrants without formal removal orders, those with criminal records and those who pose a threat to national security would not qualify for the program and would be detained, but said that participation by those who qualified would ease the transition process and the impact on the immigrants' families. ICE also began an ad campaign in the five participating cities, but critics have said the program will be ineffective because eligible immigrants will not voluntarily surrender.
ICE maintains a number of additional initiatives [fact sheet] to combat illegal immigration. In May, 270 illegal immigrants arrested during an ICE-led raid at an Agriprocessors Inc. meatpacking plant in Iowa were each sentenced to five months in prison and 27 more received probation after pleading guilty to the use of false immigration documents. ICE also carried out a raid in California the same month targeting 495 people who had ignored deportation orders, resulting in the arrest of more than 900 illegal immigrants. In general, US immigration prosecutions continued to increase in March 2008, jumping nearly 50 percent from the previous month and nearly 75 percent from the previous year, according to a report released by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.