SANTA ANA, Calif. – A pilot program allowing illegal immigrants to surrender to authorities to avoid jail and have more control over their deportation has been dubbed a failure.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement says it is ending its "Scheduled Departure" program when the three-week trial concludes Friday. Only eight people participated in the program, officials said.
"Quite frankly, I think this proves the only method that works is enforcement," Jim Hayes, acting director of ICE's detention and removal operations, told The Associated Press on Thursday.
ICE said it hatched the plan to give illegal immigrants under court order to leave more control over their departure and to calm criticism by immigrant advocates that its enforcement efforts were disruptive to families.
"They want amnesty, they want open borders, and they want a more vulnerable America," Hayes said.
While immigrant rights activists ridiculed the program, they're now worried its failure will embolden enforcement.
"My hope is it isn't going to empower them or fuel their enforcement even further," immigration lawyer Lisa Ramirez said.
Immigrant advocates said the program flopped because it offered few incentives for illegal immigrants to step forward since they would be barred from returning to the country for as long as a decade. They also said it failed to consider immigrants' ties to family here.
"We do not believe they were really interested in having people turn themselves in," said Jorge-Mario Cabrera, director of community education for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles.
ICE offered the program to 457,000 illegal immigrants nationwide who have ignored judicial orders to leave the country but have no criminal record. They were promised up to 90 days to plan their exit and coordinate travel with relatives instead of facing the prospect of being arrested, detained and deported.
Applicants could sign up at ICE offices in Charlotte, North Carolina, Chicago, Phoenix, San Diego and Santa Ana. ICE estimates 30,000 eligible immigrants lived in the five cities where the program was offered.
The eight volunteers were an Estonian man in Phoenix, a Guatemalan man and Indian couple in Chicago, a Salvadoran man in Charlotte, a Mexican woman in San Diego and a Guatemalan man and Lebanese man in Santa Ana, according to ICE.