Deportations Still High Despite Decline from Record Levels
by Derek Gilna
s political efforts to reform the nation’s immigration laws continue to falter despite garnering headlines and generating contentious public debate, the latest statistics from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) reveal that undocumented immigrants continue to be deported in large numbers.
Even though deportations fell last year from a record level in 2012, critics argue that a significant number of immigrants were “removed” for no crime other than being in the U.S. illegally – which historically has been a civil offense.
ICE officials, meanwhile, hailed the deportations as being consistent with the agency’s mandate, stating “that 98 percent of removals met one or more of the agency’s civil immigration enforcement priorities.”
In fiscal year 2013, ICE deported 368,644 people – a 10% decline from 2012’s record-setting 409,849 deportations. The agency said that of the people deported in 2013, nearly 64% were caught while, or shortly after, attempting to illegally enter the United States. The rest were apprehended in the interior of the country.
“The FY2013 numbers make clear that we are enforcing our nation’s laws in a smart and effective way, meeting our enforcement priorities by focusing on convicted criminals while also continuing to secure our nation’s borders,” said then-ICE Acting Director John Sandweg.
ICE reported that 59% of the deportees in 2013 had been convicted of a criminal offense, “and that number rises to 82 percent for individuals removed from the interior of the U.S.”
However, Immigration Impact, an advocacy project of the American Immigration Council, said the data also revealed “the extent to which immigration enforcement resources are still devoted to apprehending, detaining, and deporting individuals who represent no conceivable threat to public safety or national security.”
“In fact,” the group stated, “the overwhelming majority of people deported by ICE either have no prior criminal record or were convicted of misdemeanors” – usually minor offenses.
“ICE notes that 59 percent of all removals, ‘a total of 216,810, had been previously convicted of a crime,’” Immigration Impact said. “That statistic leaves one to wonder about the other 41 percent – the 151,834 individuals without a prior criminal record who were also removed.”
According to ICE, “other than convicted criminals, the agency’s enforcement priorities include: those apprehended while attempting to unlawfully enter the United States, illegal re-entrants – individuals who returned to the U.S. after being previously removed by ICE – and immigration fugitives.”
The numbers highlight the priority the federal government has placed on deporting undocumented immigrants since the 9/11 terror attacks. By way of comparison, deportations in the 1990s rarely topped 20,000 annually. Currently, more people are detained and deported each year by immigration enforcement agencies than are incarcerated in the federal Bureau of Prisons.
ICE has been the subject of criticism by immigrant-rights advocates who have complained about the agency’s erratic, heavy-handed and selective enforcement that often sweeps up non-violent immigrants stopped for minor traffic violations, then holds them in prison-like facilities prior to deportation.
Nonetheless, in 2012, then-ICE Director John Morton and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano redirected ICE’s resources to concentrate more on removing dangerous criminals, and issued new detainer guidelines for law enforcement agencies. The new policy focused on apprehending felons and repeat offenders, among other priorities, and applied to all ICE programs – including Secure Communities, which had been cited for abuses. [See: PLN, April 2013, p.1; March 2013, p.40; June 2011, p.43].
Immigration Impact noted that much more needs to be done. “While ICE does indeed capture and remove potentially dangerous individuals, most of its resources remain devoted to the enforcement of a broken and unworkable immigration system,” the group said. “The latest decline in removals notwithstanding, the U.S. deportation machine remains severely out of balance and lacking in either flexibility or meaningful opportunities for due process.”
Sources: www.ice.gov, www.migrationpolicy.org, http://immigrationimpact.com
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