The federal government will scrap a program for illegal immigrants to turn themselves in for deportation after only eight people volunteered during a nearly three-week trial, an official said Thursday.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement offered the pilot program in five cities, giving illegal immigrants facing court orders to leave the country 90 days to plan their departure and coordinate travel with relatives instead of facing the prospect of being arrested, detained and deported.
ICE will end its “Scheduled Departure” program when the trial period concludes Friday, Jim Hayes, acting director of ICE’s detention and removal operations, told The Associated Press.
ICE offered the program to 457,000 illegal immigrants nationwide who have ignored judicial orders to leave the country but have no criminal record. Applicants could sign up at ICE offices in Charlotte, N.C., Chicago, Phoenix, San Diego and Santa Ana.
Immigrant advocates said the program had few incentives and failed to consider undocumented immigrants’ ties to family in the U.S. They said they worry that ICE will cite the weak turnout as a reason to step up the raids, since it now can say that it made an effort to enforce the law in a way that was less disruptive to illegal immigrants and their families.
ICE said it hatched the plan to quell criticism of the surge in immigration raids. One supporter of tougher enforcement said the low turnout will help insulate the agency from some of that criticism.
“It was calling their bluff,” said Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform.