Blog Archive

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Deportation numbers up under Obama compared to predecessor

By Jazmine Ulloa
The Monitor
August 04, 2010

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has deported more undocumented immigrants under the administration of President Barack Obama than under that of his predecessor, states a report analyzing newly released figures from the federal agency.

The study released this week by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University also found the agency has shifted its focus to removing criminal noncitizens.

Its findings come amid a tense immigration debate that has centered on border security and whether the Obama administration has done enough to secure the borders. One immigration advocate said the statistics show a “bizarre contradiction” in the current administration, which some say has portrayed itself as interested in tackling comprehensive immigration reform but has instead focused on border enforcement.

“What’s disappointing is that this administration is deporting more people than ever before — it’s more well funded than ever before, but many people have the perception that immigration enforcement is underfunded and that this administration is extremely pro-immigrant,” said Paromita Shah, associate director of the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild in Boston. “I think we know now that is not the case.”


The numbers show that during the first nine months of this fiscal year, the federal agency has removed 279,035 noncitizens, 10 percent more than the 254,763 deported in the same period during fiscal year 2008 — the last year of President George W. Bush’s administration.

The totals include what the agency refers to as “returns” — removals that allow some undocumented immigrants to return to the country depending on their case. But the vast majority are deportations where the individual is barred from re-entry for a period of years, sometimes permanently.

The study also noted an apparent change in ICE’s enforcement strategy in the first three months of this fiscal year — targeting undocumented immigrants with a criminal past. Before then, between fiscal years 2005 and 2009, sharp increases in deportations by the agency could largely be attributed to the detention of noncitizens who had not committed crimes in the U.S., the analysis found.

Of the 279,035 undocumented immigrants deported, 136,714 — about half — have been convicted of crimes in the United States. The removal pace of criminal aliens in fiscal year 2010 is up 60 percent compared to the same time frame in 2008. It also is 37 percent higher than in the first year of the Obama administration, according to the report.

ICE spokeswoman Nina Pruneda said her agency directs its attention to the detention of undocumented immigrants with egregious criminal histories through the use of enforcement initiatives, such as its Secure Communities and Criminal Alien programs.

“ICE is focused on smart, effective immigration enforcement that prioritizes efforts first on those dangerous criminal aliens who present the greatest risk to the security of our communities,” Pruneda said in a statement. “Half of the people we have removed so far this year have been convicted criminal aliens. That’s up from 35 percent a year ago.”


Immigration experts said the expansion of ICE’s enforcement programs has led to the increase in deportations. At front and center is the federal agency’s Secure Communities Program, in which the fingerprints of those who are arrested are cross-referenced with Department of Homeland Security and FBI databases. Immigration status is determined within hours, and individuals identified as being in the country illegally are deported upon disposition of their cases.

But immigration advocates and attorneys have criticized such initiatives, saying the programs lack guidance and can lead to racial profiling.

Furthermore, many of the people picked up by ICE through Secure Communities have not committed serious crimes, while others have not been convicted, said Denise Gilman, a clinical professor at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law.

“The problem is whether the person being deported is a serious criminal or not,” she said. “It is a little bit deceptive to talk about the shift to criminal priorities, because a lot of that shift is taking place through the Secure Communities program, which is not a good filter for ensuring that the focus is on serious criminals or even criminals at all.”

Indeed, the study found that the classification of different kinds of crime into ICE’s “seriousness” categories was “surprising.” Traffic violations, for instance, fall into Level 2 — the middle of the scale. Level 1 is the most serious and includes homicide, sexual assault, kidnapping, national security violations and other crimes. Level 3 comprises misdemeanors, such as having an open container of alcohol.

The report also called for greater transparency in the federal agency’s statistics.

Noncriminal immigrant deportations, for example, have dropped for the first time in five years, the study found. During the first nine months of the current fiscal year, 142,321 noncriminal undocumented immigrants were deported — a decrease of about 30 percent from the 202,371 removed in the same time frame last year. But the study uses two sets of numbers for 2009 — one based on “alien-by-alien removal records” from ICE analyzed by TRAC and another, ICE’s own summary figures for 2009.

“Though the counts closely agree as to the totals, they disagree as to the criminal/noncriminal composition of those removed,” the study states. In ICE’s numbers, 2,000 individuals each month were shifted from the noncriminal column to the criminal column. TRAC was not given an explanation for the re-categorization, its report states.

Still, the numbers make it clear Obama wishes to follow an enforcement strategy, even as the Republican Party criticizes his administration on border security, Gilman said.

“We are in an enforcement period,” she said.