More than half of those deported, 195,772, had criminal convictions – which was an increase of more than 81,000 deportations of such immigrants compared with the last year of the Bush presidency.
According to the New York Times, the Obama administration has been under “intense pressure to show that they are tough on illegal immigration.”
Of course, that is contradicted by the fact that the U.S. Justice Department filed a well-publicized lawsuit against the State of Arizona in an effort to strike down that state’s legislative attempt to increase arrests of illegal immigrants. [See: PLN, Nov. 2010, p.1].
According to the Times, “an outcry from Latinos in the state and nationwide, who said [the law] could lead to harassment and racial profiling...” helped trigger the lawsuit by the Justice Department. The Arizona statute, SB 1070, has been partially stayed by a federal judge.
Napolitano claimed that the Obama administration was trying to concentrate deportation efforts on “removing those who pose public safety threats to our communities.”
Local law enforcement authorities are now able to check the immigration status of detainees under a program called Secure Communities. A fingerprint check is conducted through DHS databases to verify whether a detainee is eligible to be in the country.
Approximately 660 cities and counties participate in the program, which started in 2008 in Harris County, Texas. Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia emphasized that many of the people who face deportation “didn’t come here to make a better life for themselves, they came to continue their criminal career.”
Secure Communities has identified around 240,000 illegal immigrants. According to the DHS, about one-third of deportees with criminal records had committed serious crimes such as murder, rape or major drug offenses. That necessarily means that two-thirds were guilty of lesser crimes – including DUI and driving without a license.
Of the 197,000 people deported during the last fiscal year who had committed no crimes, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials said many were fugitives from immigration courts or had crossed the border illegally – a civil offense.
Further, ICE has conducted over 2,200 audits of businesses to verify the immigration status of their workers, which resulted in charges against 180 employers and $50 million in fines.
David Leopold, president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, asked, “Were they immigrants who were just caught in the web of a very dysfunctional system? Everybody is behind smart enforcement, but smart enforcement without a comprehensive fix to the system is not smart.”
The Obama administration, despite repeated promises to the contrary, has not introduced legislation to reform the U.S. immigration system, though Obama invited Congress to address the issue during a speech in El Paso, Texas on May 10, 2011. Also, Secretary Napolitano has called for immigration reform, and in 2009 implemented specific reforms related to ICE’s immigration detention policies.
Sources: New York Times, www.thehill.com, Washington Post, DHS Fact Sheet (Oct. 6, 2009)
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