Obama’s ICE reports record number of deportations of illegal immigrants
By Jordy Yager – 10/18/11 08:08 PM ET, The Hill
The U.S. deported more people — nearly 400,000 — who were in the country illegally in fiscal 2011 than ever before, according to the latest numbers released Tuesday by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) bureau.
President Obama’s administration touted the startling figures as evidence of its progress in stopping illegal immigration, a record that could help the president win back independent voters who abandoned Democrats in the 2010 midterm elections.
A key Hispanic Democrat, however, said the figures were “nothing to be proud of,” highlighting the dangers a record number of deportations could mean for a White House focused on attracting Hispanic voters critical in swing states such as Colorado and New Mexico.“We are deporting hundreds of thousands of people who came to the country to work, raise families, contribute to the economy, and want nothing more than to be allowed to live and work here legally,” Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) said in a statement.
Of the 396,906 people removed from the U.S., more than half — 216,698 —had been previously convicted of felonies or misdemeanors, according to the ICE numbers, which represent a 90 percent increase in the number of criminals deported over those for fiscal 2008. The numbers mark a 10 percent increase over criminals removed in fiscal 2010 — about 195,000.
With the Republican field of candidates fighting over who can be the toughest on border security, Democrats believe there is an opening for Obama to win over Hispanics in 2012. The demographic group was an important part of Obama’s 2008 coalition, but Hispanics have been disappointed with the president’s failure to move broad immigration reform legislation through Congress.
For much of 2011, the White House has been focused on reaching out to Hispanic groups to highlight its support for comprehensive immigration reform.
The administration also shifted its enforcement policy in June, focusing its prosecutions on illegal immigrants who had criminal records. The new Department of Homeland Security rules halted the blanket deportation of every illegal immigrant in line for exile. Instead, DHS officials said they would look at each individual on a case-by-case basis, prioritizing violent offenders and other criminals, while deferring the deportation of many students and others considered nonthreatening.
The new policy, formally announced in August and hailed at the time by Gutierrez and other immigration reform advocates, was intended to win over Hispanics.Gutierrez on Tuesday said he’s still searching for evidence that those changes have taken hold.
“The announcement cannot be merely a pacifier for those of us crying out for justice and compassion,” he said. “It must actually stop the deportation of those with deep roots in our country like long-term residents, DREAM Act students, military families, and immediate family of U.S. citizens.”
ICE Director John Morton attributed the jump in deportations to the agency’s newly revamped discretionary policy.
“Smart and effective immigration enforcement relies on setting priorities for removal and executing on those priorities,” Morton said in a statement.
“These year-end totals indicate that we are making progress, with more convicted criminals, recent border crossers, egregious immigration law violators and immigration fugitives being removed from the country than ever before,” he said.
Republicans have blasted the White House’s new enforcement policies, saying they are a backdoor path to citizenship and a cloaked version of amnesty.
“The Obama administration is cooking the books to make it look like they are enforcing immigration laws, when in reality they are enacting amnesty through inaction,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) on Tuesday.
Obama, in an online discussion targeted at Hispanic voters last month, acknowledged that the deportation numbers are “deceptive” because they do not include people who are sent back to their native country after being arrested by Border Patrol while attempting to cross the border illegally.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who is expected to be asked about the new policies when she appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, said earlier this month that the rising number of deportations shows her agency is doing its job to enforce the law.
“We cannot, on the one hand, be on the verge of removing, for the third consecutive year, a record-breaking number of unlawful individuals from this country with the highest number of criminal removals in American history and, at the same time, be abrogating our law enforcement responsibilities,” Napolitano said during a talk at American University.
ICE said that of the criminals deported, 1,119 had been convicted of committing a homicide, 5,848 had been convicted of sexual offenses and 44,653 aliens had been convicted of drug-related crimes.
This year’s numbers represent about a 1 percent increase in total people deported. In fiscal 2010, ICE removed 392,862 people who were in the country illegally.
The announcement comes as the debate over the country’s immigration laws has gained focus on Capitol Hill, in the federal court system and on the GOP presidential campaign trail.
The Justice Department (DOJ) has launched a fight against Alabama’s new immigration law — the latest in a series of state measures that require local law enforcement officials to establish whether a suspected criminal is in the country legally.
And Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain came under fire this week for comments he made suggesting that a border fence should be electrified. Cain later said he was making a joke and that he didn’t want to offend anyone, though he stood by the idea of electrifying a fence along the border.
US plans to make it a priority to deport illegal immigrants who are convicted criminals
By Associated Press, Published: August 18
That will mean a case-by-case review of approximately 300,000 illegal immigrants facing possible deportation in federal immigration courts, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in announcing the policy change.
“From a law enforcement and public safety perspective, DHS enforcement resources must continue to be focused on our highest priorities,” Napolitano wrote a group of senators supporting new immigration legislation. “Doing otherwise hinders our public safety mission — clogging immigration court dockets and diverting DHS enforcement resources away from the individuals who pose a threat to public safety.”
The Associated Press obtained a copy of the letter.
Some states are rebelling against another administration effort to control illegal immigration known as Secure Communities. The program requires that when state and local law enforcement send criminal suspects’ fingerprints to the FBI, the prints are run through an immigration database to determine the person’s immigration status. States have argued that the program puts them in the position of policing immigration, which they consider a federal responsibility. Immigrant advocacy groups have complained that people who had not yet been convicted of a crime were being caught up in the system.
In June, the director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, John Morton, sent a memo to agents outlining when and how they could use discretion in immigration cases. That guidance also covered those potentially subject to a legislative proposal, known as the DREAM Act, intended to give young illegal immigrants who go to college or serve in the military a chance at legal status.
Morton also suggested that agents consider how long someone has been in the United State, whether that person’s spouse or children are U.S. citizens and whether that person has a criminal record.
A senior administration official said delaying deportation decisions in cases for some non-criminals would allow quicker deportation of serious criminals. The indefinite stay will not give illegal immigrants a path to legal permanent residency, but will let them apply for a work permit.
“As a matter of law, they are eligible for a work authorization card, basically a taxpayer ID card, but that decision is made separately and on a case-by-case basis,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discussed the change publicly.
The official said the change will give authorities the chance to keep some cases from even reaching the court system. The message to agents in the field, the official said, would be “you do not need to put everyone you come across in the system.”
If an immigrant whose case has been stayed commits a crime or other circumstances change, their case could be reopened.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., a longtime supporter of immigration overhaul and the DREAM Act, applauded the policy change.
“These students are the future doctors, lawyers, teachers and, maybe, senators, who will make America stronger,” Durbin said in an emailed statement. “We need to be doing all we can to keep these talented, dedicated, American students here, not wasting increasingly precious resources sending them away to countries they barely remember.”
Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said the Obama administration was implementing reforms “against the will of Congress and the majority of American people we represent.”
“It is just the latest attempt by this president to bypass the intended legislative process when he does not get his way,” McCaul said in a statement. “The fact that we have a backlog and prioritize deportations is nothing new. This policy goes a step further granting illegal immigrants a fast-track to gaining a work permit where they will now unfairly compete with more than 9 percent of Americans who are still looking for jobs.”
Other Republicans have previously criticized the DREAM Act and other immigration legislation that would provide a path to legal status as amnesty. Following Morton’s June memo, Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, introduced a bill to block the administration’s use of prosecutorial discretion and called the use of that discretion “backdoor amnesty.”