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To Understand Obama's Deportation Record, Look to Criminalization of Immigrants

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At Fusion today, Leon Krauze wrote about his interview with Dolores Huerta, who told him in no uncertain terms that President Obama has gotten “nothing in return” for his scheme to trade a punitive deportation record for Republicans’ cooperation in passing immigration reform.

“Obama miscalculated,” Huerta is quoted, and Krauze agrees:

Yes, the same man who in 2008 promised change while borrowing Cesar Chavez’s (and Dolores Huerta’s) famous line “yes we can” has now been dubbed the “deporter-in-chief.”

It can seem like an unfair turn of events, but Obama has earned it. After five years of brutally effective implementation, the president’s well-oiled deportation machine has now managed to remove and expel close to two million people. Numbers of that magnitude allow few subtleties.

But Krauze goes on, arguing that subtleties should be considered in the deportation numbers, since he believes that Obama has taken a more careful approach to deportations over time:

Recent numbers show that this indiscriminate deportation policy has shifted towards a much more careful approach. In 2013, the total number of undocumented people with no criminal record and no prior immigration violations who were deported after being detained in the country’s interior was drastically reduced. In 2009, the number was close to 150,000; by 2013 the number became 10,336.

What Krauze neglects to mention, however, is that ICE’s labels hide the increasing criminalization of immigrants in recent years.  By the Administration’s own definition of a “criminal” for deportation purposes—a definition that includes traffic offenses—most Americans would actually be considered criminals.  And, the Justice Department is playing a very active role in criminalizing even more immigrants by charging them with immigration crimes like “entering without inspection” before deporting them.  For an example, read about the story of Alfredo Ramos of Ohio.

As a new TRAC study released yesterday stated:

While [ICE] was able to increase the number of noncitizens it deported who had been convicted of a crime, this was largely a result of an increase in the deportations of individuals whose most serious conviction was an immigration or traffic violation.

Meanwhile, according to the New York Times report also released this week, only 20% of the 2 million immigrants who have been deported over Obama’s tenure have been convicted of serious crimes, while two-thirds involved people who have only committed minor infractions (like traffic violations) or had no criminal records at all.

And considering that Obama’s year-over-year deportation numbers have generally been increasing, that doesn’t sound like a subtlety in his deportation record at all.  Huerta is right: Obama miscalculated.  He put a bunch of people in the “criminal” category who don’t belong there.  And that is why we don’t buy their defense of these deportations.