Immigration and Customs Enforcement is issuing notices of fines for potentially thousands of dollars to undocumented immigrants who have failed to comply with deportation orders, according to the agency.
ICE began issuing notices of its intent to fine migrants last December following President Donald Trump’s executive order, issued a year earlier, instructing the agency to begin collecting fines from migrants unlawfully in the US.
Charging fees for undocumented migration is not unprecedented in the United States: Previously, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 enhanced civil penalties “for failure to depart” and “illegal re-entry,” both offenses under the previous Immigration and Nationality Act.
“ICE is committed to using various enforcement methods – including arrest; detention; technological monitoring; and financial penalties – to enforce US immigration law and maintain the integrity of legal orders issued by judges,” said ICE spokesperson Matthew Bourke in a statement.
The Washington Post first reported the threat of fines on Tuesday.
In one instance, an undocumented immigrant has been living in the Columbus Mennonite Church in Clintonville, Ohio, for more than a year. Edith Espinal, a Mexican national, has received a letter from ICE notifying her that it intends to fine her nearly half a million dollars for staying in the US illegally over several years and failing to follow orders to leave the country, her attorney said Tuesday.
Espinal received a “notice of intention to fine” from ICE for $497,777, which her attorney, Lizbeth Mateo, posted on Twitter.
On Wednesday, Espinal addressed her supporters and the media inside the church.
“Please support us. Please use your power, use your voice, because I know Columbus support my family, I know Columbus take care of my family,” she said at a news conference.
In the three-page letter – dated June 25, 2019 – ICE states that a final administrative removal order was issued in October 2016 against Espinal. The letter indicates she failed to depart the US as “previously agreed” during an appointment with ICE, and that she removed her GPS tracking device.
The letter, which concludes that “it is the intention of ICE to order you pay a fine in the amount of $497,777,” signed by an ICE Enforcement Program Manager.
Espinal called the letter unjust on Wednesday and said it was “ridiculous to pay this money to the government.” Supporters stood behind her in the church with signs that said, “#LetEdithStay.”
Rep. Joyce Beatty, an Ohio Democrat who introduced Espinal at the news conference, said she had written a letter to acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan.
“I told him that this is deplorable and I am shocked that he would do something like this,” Beatty said. She said Espinal is seeking asylum in her congressional district.
“I think reasonable-minded people will agree that this fine, these fines, are excessive and they violate both the spirit and the intent of our nation’s immigration laws,” Beatty added.
A former ICE official told CNN that notices such as the one sent to Espinal are part of ongoing efforts to address the population of migrants who have been ordered removed from the US but have not left the country.
“But there’s implications to that. You take somebody into custody, and then you fine them, you know, a couple of thousand dollars. These are not big companies, these are people, individuals,” said the official.
According to ICE, migrants who fail to voluntarily depart the US are subject to a $3,000 fine, unless an immigration judge sets a different amount.
Migrants who do not comply with a final order of deportation from an immigration judge are subject to a fine of no more than $799 per day.
The number of fines issued by the agency was not available, according to ICE. Many are pending appeal and the agency has not been able to confirm receipt of others.
CNN’s Susan Scutti contributed to this report.