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Record Number of Illegal Immigrants Deported in 2011

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Stay tuned for Lost in Detention, our upcoming film on the immigration debate. It airs tonight; check your local listings or watch it online.

Today, Immigration and Customs Enforcement director John Morton announced that 396,906 people were deported during the 2011 fiscal year, the largest number in ICE’s history.

“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,” said Morton.

While the numbers are historic, they’re not dramatically larger than 2010 deportations, which were reported at “more than 392,000.”

As Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano alluded a few weeks ago, 55 percent of the deported immigrants — about 216,700 people — had criminal convictions (felonies or misdemeanors). Overall, the number of criminals deported has increased 89 percent since 2008.

This emphasis on criminal deportations is in line with changes the administration says it’s made in response to criticism (from social justice groups and state governors alike) that its Secure Communities program — a high-tech way of tracking immigration violators via fingerprint data — is sowing fear and deporting low-level offenders (or people without records at all).

But questions remain about what kind of criminals are being deported. ICE’s press release states that 87,547 had been convicted of either homicide, sexual offenses, drug-related crimes or driving under the influence. This is only about 40 percent of the total number of criminal deportations. But the release doesn’t indicate how many had low-level offenses on their record.

ICE says that 19.6 percent of detainees were repeat immigration violators, and 11.6 percent were border removals. Border Patrol apprehensions and prosecutions for illegal re-entry have dropped dramatically in the past five years, from 1,089,092 in 2006 to 463,382 in 2010. While not all Border Patrol apprehensions result in ICE removals, observers suggest that it’s fair to assume a corresponding decline. The increase in overall deportation numbers suggests that ICE is relying more on “interior” enforcement to meet its goal, mandated by Congress, of 400,000 deportations per year.

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