You might think from the title of this post that I’m all set to rant about the upcoming April 1 opening of the H-1B filing season — the period known in the trade as the time of Preparation H. You might think I’m poised to critique the annual government lottery that causes so much employer and foreign-worker hand wringing as they fret about whether the quota will dry up in a day or two, as it has in the recent past. If you thought so, you would be wrong.

I write instead to decry two other quotas, one alleged and the other well established, both involving the enforcement side of the immigration house.

The first is described in an Associated Press report. It seems that on Monday the U.S. Border Patrol mounted an investigation of allegations by agents in the Riverside (CA) region. These Border Patrollers complain that their January quota on apprehensions of unauthorized immigrants had jumped to 150 per month from 100 in November and December. A failure to meet the quota, agents allege, would result in some form of unspecified punishment. Reminiscent of arguments over affirmative action, the appointed government spokesperson hinted that the incident may be just one big misunderstanding: It’s about “numerical goals,” not quotas.

The second enforcement quota, dubbed Operation Endgame and developed in stealth by the Bush Administration, was initially intended to target foreign fugitives from our criminal justice system who presented clear and present dangers to national security or public safety. As the Migration Policy Institute recently reported, however, somewhere along the way that quota-driven strategy lost its raison d’être. Endgame’s denouement proved a mission too creepy. The agents began targeting run-of-the-mill immigration status violators instead.

With both of these benighted quotas, the drive to “make the numbers” seems to have blinded the quota cops from a clear sight of their statutory mission. The quest apparently became a daily numbers game. It should never be just about the numbers, although they do look impressive in an ICE press release, or in an appearance before Congress or Lou Dobbs. If foreign-born criminals or terrorists can’t be found, then pinching a visa overstayer instead will apparently just have to do.

I sense that the jig may soon be up, however, given this recent directive from Janet Napolitano, the new Secretary of Homeland Security:

Please provide the current metrics of fugitive apprehension and removal (clearly differentiate the number of fugitives that are actually removed versus those aliens unlawfully present who are simply encountered by the teams while on assignment). How can fugitives be more effectively prioritized for these purposes and what steps can be taken to expedite removal?

In just over two weeks, on Feb. 20, “relevant components and offices of the department” must respond to her politely phrased request (she did say “[p]lease”). Stay tuned for the answer, even if it only distracts us temporarily from the painful season of Preparation H.