The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced a pilot program which encourages fugitive aliens who have no criminal history and who do not pose a threat to the community, an opportunity to be processed for removal without being held in ICE custody. ICE defines a fugitive as an alien who has failed to depart the United States based upon a final order of removal, deportation, or exclusion from an immigration judge, or who has failed to report to ICE after receiving notice to do so. The program, known as Scheduled Departure, is expected to run between August 5 to August 22, 2008 in the following cities, Santa Ana, San Diego, Phoenix, Chicago and Charlotte. Those aliens who live in and around these cities and who wish to participate in this pilot program can visit their local ICE Offices of Detention and Removal Operations to discuss their departure plans.

ICE is encouraging non-criminal fugitive aliens to take advantage of the Scheduled Departure Program because it will give them an opportunity to comply with the law and gain control of how their families are affected by their removal. ICE has indicated that participation in the program ends the risk of sudden arrest and detention for certain non-criminal fugitives. Eligible participants will be given supervision or an electronic monitoring device and will be permitted to remain in the U.S. Those who are able to provide for their own removal would have the flexibility to make their own travel arrangements within a 90-day time period. Those who cannot make their own travel arrangements will be removed by ICE. ICE will allow eligible participants to arrange for their families to depart together.

This program is similar to ICE’s Fugitive Operations Program which targets fugitive aliens, those who pose a threat to national security and community safety, for arrest and removal from the United States. Thus far in fiscal year 2008, ICE has arrested more than 26,000 fugitives and other immigration status violators. ICE currently operates 90 fugitive operations teams, with 15 more scheduled to be deployed in the next two months. ICE estimates that there are approximately 572,000 ICE fugitives in the United States, including 457,000 who do not have criminal histories.

Critics of the program state that the Scheduled Departure Program does not provide any benefit to participants. Participation in the program is not considered voluntary departure and participants will continue to have a final order of removal, deportation or exclusion on their records.