NEW YORK, USA (CMC) — Two immigrant advocacy groups say they have found that United States Immigration border patrol agents, who arrest Caribbean and other immigrants in New York State, get gift cards, bonuses and extra vacations.
The Families for Freedom and the New York University (NYU) Immigrant Rights Clinic said in a new report that the rewards include US$100 Home Depot gift cards. They said some agents also got as much as US$2,500 a year each.
The groups said they had sued the government under the Freedom of Information Act, discovering that supervisors in the agency's upstate Buffalo sector, which extends across 29 counties in New York and Pennsylvania, gave out close to one million dollars in cash awards to agents from 2003 to 2011.
"The whole notion of the incentive programme is disturbing. But the cash part is crazy," said Abraham Paulos of Families for Freedom.
"We have every reason to believe that this is going on everywhere else," he added.
The report was released days after a bi-partisan group of US senators called for increased border enforcement, including drones, as part of an immigration reform package.
US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency files did not provide reasons why the bonuses were awarded, but Border Patrol supervisors testified during the legal battle over releasing the data that they were handed out for "professionalism," Paulos said.
Supervisors also said they send daily arrest tallies to the immigration headquarters in Washington, DC, according to depositions cited in the report.
"What are these incentives for, if you only monitor closely arrest records?" asked Paulos.
ICE spokeswoman, Joanne Ferreira, said that bonuses were not "paid incentives and awards for specific human targets or enforcement actions," adding "no such practice has ever occurred,".
The report found that ICE's cash rewards budget in Buffalo has soared in recent years, from a few thousand dollars in 2003 to US$200,000 in 2011.
The report also found that supervisors had a budget of US$3,000 in 2011 just for gift cards, which they gave out as part of a programme called "On-the-Spot Award".
The groups also found agents from a single Border Patrol station in Rochester, another upstate city, wrongfully arrested nearly 300 people, many of whom were Caribbean immigrants, between 2006 and 2011 who were actually in the US legally.
The groups said some had green cards, some were US citizens, and others were just tourists.
The report found that most of the wrongful arrests took place when immigration agents stopped Greyhound buses or Amtrak trains -- often travelling in the middle of the night to or from New York City -- and asked everyone on board to show identification.
The report said a vast majority of those wrongfully arrested were Caribbean nationals, as well as South and East Asians, and Africans.