Ruben Navarette Jr., a columnist and editorial writer for the San Diego Union-Tribune, wrote a column this week critical of Immigration and Custom Enforcement’s Operation Scheduled Departure, a Department of Homeland Security program specifically designed to address criticism of ICE as it enforces the nation’s immigration laws.

The column called the Operation “pitiful” and evidence that “a gargantuan government agency with more than 16,000 employees and a $5 billion budget suddenly throws up its hands and gives up one of its major responsibilities.”

“As it stands, most illegal immigrants are probably more likely to be struck by lightning than to ever be paid a visit by ICE,” asserts Navarette. “Do-nothingism is a reputation the agency has worked hard to build.  Just ask any local or state police officer who, having run across an illegal immigrant and done his duty by calling ICE to pick him up, waited and waited only to eventually realize that no one was coming.”

Uh huh.

Navarette’s line of criticism is as common as it is misinformed. When agents at ICE aren’t being criticized for not being aggressive enough, they’re being attacked for being too aggressive.

The attack from Navarette comes on the heels of comments by Senator Barack Obama at a rally in July in which he stated that “communities are terrorized by ICE immigration raid.” Obama was only a little more kind than U.S. Representatives Luis Gutierrez and Sam Farr, who called ICE agents the “Gestapo.”

Why were ICE agents compared to the murderous organization run by the Nazis during World War II? Well, just as Navarette claims ICE is a “do nothing” agency (that is, not enforcing immigration laws), Gutierrez and Farr and Obama claim ICE is so busy “doing something” (that is, enforcing immigration laws) that it has become the evident equivalent of an organization that once engaged in racial cleansing.

Does anybody wonder why the INS was such a demoralized agency at the time it was broken apart and merged in the DHS?

Operation Scheduled Departure is a DHS/ICE pilot program that allows “fugitive aliens” with no criminal history or threat to the community an opportunity to remain out of custody while they coordinate their removal with ICE.

“Fugitive aliens” are aliens who have failed to depart the U.S. based upon a final order of removal, deportation, or exclusion from a U.S. Immigration judge.  Operation Scheduled Departure commenced on August 5th and will run through August 22nd in Santa Ana, California, San Diego, Chicago, Phoenix and Charlotte, NC.

The program, according to an ICE press release, “addresses concerns raised by aliens, community groups, and immigration attorneys who say ICE unnecessarily disrupts families while enforcing the law … by participating in the Scheduled Departure Program, those who have had their day in court, and have been ordered to leave the country have an opportunity to comply with the law, and gain control of how their families are affected by their removal.”

When researching this story, I did not discover any indication that Operation Scheduled Departure is being conducted in lieu of continued “ICE Fugitive Operations.” Indeed, as a former special agent in charge of ICE’s largest field office (New York), I can assure Navarette that his notion that ICE agents aren’t aggressively enforcing the law is misguided. (However, something tells me that Navarette isn’t interested in hearing facts from the folks actually running the program.)

In 2008, over 28,000 fugitives and immigration status violators have been arrested by ICE.  Clearly, any “fugitive” that does not take advantage of the operation will be subject to arrest and incarceration as a “fugitive.” Of course, then ICE agents will be attacked by other columnists and the media, not to mention opportunistic politicians, as being terrorists and the Gestapo.

Under such a highly charged political environment, in which the country is divided and the country’s political leaders have failed to show leadership, those of us who worked at ICE and those good men and women who continue to do their jobs, know better than to expect a fair shake. Still, you’d at least think some of the critics would bother to check out the facts or do a modicum of research before launching their attacks.

Clearly, ICE intends to continue its successful “Fugitive Operations Program” as it will add, in the next two months, fourteen new teams to the ninety teams already established. That hardly sounds like an agency that isn’t pursuing its mission.