Obama administration deports a record number of immigrants

SCOTT APPLEWHITE / Associated Press
SCOTT APPLEWHITE / Associated Press
Posted: October 24, 2011

It is an oddity of the Obama years: A president who wants new pathways to legal residency for millions of undocumented immigrants is deporting them at a record rate.

From Oct. 1, 2010, to the end of last month, federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials expelled 396,906 illegal immigrants - the largest number in the agency's history.

Annual deportations have increased 400 percent since 1996, with "more than a million people [expelled] since the beginning of the Obama administration," notes a University of California at Berkeley Law School study released this month.

The report, "Secure Communities by the Numbers," concluded that many immigrants "are pushed rapidly through the system, without appropriate checks or opportunities to challenge their detention and/or deportation."

Of the nearly 400,000 people deported last year, the government said, 55 percent were convicted of felonies or misdemeanors, including 1,119 homicides, 5,848 sexual offenses, 44,653 drug offenses, and 35,927 cases of driving under the influence.

The remaining 45 percent committed civil infractions - overstaying a visa, for example - but had not violated criminal statutes.

ICE's Philadelphia field office - which has jurisdiction in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and West Virginia - deported 6,746 people last year, including 4,159 convicted of felonies or misdemeanors. That put its rate of "criminal alien" expulsions at about 61 percent.

The Philadelphia office could not immediately say how many of its deportees were in each of the categories cited in the national statistics.

Across the country, the 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," ICE director John Morton said.

Defenders of this year's record number say it is high time the federal government cracked down on illegal immigration to protect Americans from potential foreign terrorists and other criminals.

Pro-immigrant activists, including Frank Sharry of the America's Voice Education Fund, say the nation's policy on deportation is not what it purports to be.

"Despite insisting that they are focusing on the 'worst of the worst,' " he said, the Department of Homeland Security "has to come clean about its deportation numbers. How many . . . are actually dangerous people? How many are just fathers on their way to work, pulled over by police who think it is their job to determine who is legal and who isn't?"

Part of what may be driving the deportation explosion, some experts say, is programs that involve local police in immigration enforcement.

Bob Dane, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a Washington group founded to oppose illegal immigration, thinks local police involvement is appropriate.

When an officer sees a speeding car and makes a lawful stop to ask for a license, Dane wrote in a recent posting on FoxNews.com, it "might be loaded with nine people who speak no English, have no driver's licenses, no vehicle registration, no auto insurance, no Social Security numbers, and maybe only Mexican consular cards or Gold's Gym cards. At that point, common sense might suggest that asking about immigration status is warranted."

Though ICE says it focuses on illegal immigrants who "pose the greatest threat to public safety," its critics say others are caught in the dragnet as well.

"The percentage of criminals among the deportees has risen during the Obama administration," said U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D., Ill.). "But let's be clear, we are still deporting a large number of parents, workers, and others who pose no threat to this country, and who contribute to our economic well-being as a nation."

Beyond the moral imperative to get immigration policy right, there is a powerful financial incentive.

The average cost of one deportation is about $12,500, according to some estimates. Deporting 400,000 people cost the nation roughly $5 billion.

Opponents of illegal immigration call it money well spent. Not Gutierrez.

"Setting a record for deportation while incurring the huge expense of sending so many people away," he said, "is nothing to be proud of as a country."

Contact staff writer Michael Matza at 215-854-2541 or mmatza@phillynews.com.

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