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Who is the Obama Administration Really Deporting?

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Immigrant Advocates from Northern and Southern Borders Discuss Facts and Faces Behind DHS “Priorities” in Light of NYT and TRAC Studies

In a conference call today with reporters, immigration experts and community leaders reacted to the latest reports about who the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is actually deporting, and how many could actually be considered high-priority offenders under a common-sense definition, rather than Moms and Dads trying to care for their families.

Comprehensive data and analysis from the New York Times and Transactional Access Records Clearinghouse (TRAC) show that despite Obama Administration claims that they are focusing deportations on “convicted criminals,” most individuals who are deported have only traffic or immigration violations, or no offense at all.

According to the New York Times, nearly 2/3 of the 2 million deportations carried out by the Obama Administration were of “people who had committed minor infractions, including traffic violations, or had no criminal record at all.  Twenty percent — or about 394,000 — of the cases involved people convicted of serious crimes, including drug-related offenses, the records show.”  A new report from TRAC shows a similar trend.  For Fiscal Year 2013, for example, 42% of deportees had no convictions whatsoever.  Twenty-seven percent had been convicted of a traffic or immigration offense and only 12% met the government’s highest priority (Level 1 crimes).

According to Lynn Tramonte, Deputy Director of America’s Voice:

According to TRAC, if you define ‘convicted criminal’ the way the Administration does, and include people guilty of traffic offenses, most Americans would be criminals.  And, if you follow the DHS definition of a ‘border resident,’ which includes anyone living within 100 miles of an international border, most Americans would qualify according to the ACLU.  Despite the Obama Administration’s insistence otherwise, the vast majority of people they are deporting are ordinary folks with families, jobs, and lives in the United States.  The Times and TRAC are exposing the facts.

In fact, under the Obama Administration, “there has been an absolute decline in the number of noncitizens removed who have been convicted of any crime apart from traffic and immigration” according to TRAC.  “During FY 2010 these individuals numbered 116,884. By FY 2013 they had declined to only 103,676. This means that the trumpeted increase in the number of ‘convicted criminals’ ICE has deported resulted entirely from jacking up the deportation of noncitizens whose most serious criminal conviction was a traffic or an immigration offense,” the report explains.

TRAC data also presents a searing indictment of the Secure Communities program, which involves state and local police in immigration enforcement.  They provide just the latest round of evidence to show that, despite the fact that this program is supposed to be going after serious criminals, it has actually triggered deportation of millions of immigrants who do not meet that definition in any way.  And despite claims that the program would be “blind” to race and ethnicity, in fact it has been used by police officers and local sheriffs to go on fishing expeditions for immigrants.  As the data shows, the U.S. Border Patrol and ICE appear all too willing to comply.

During the call, Veronica Dahlberg, Executive Director of HOLA Ohio and Monica García, Regional Coordinator of the Border Network for Human Rights in Las Cruces, New Mexico talked about trends in their own border communities–Veronica in northeast Ohio along the Lake Erie border with Canada, and Monica in New Mexico.

“In this quiet, small town in Ohio, families who have carved out a little piece of the American Dream, are getting ripped apart.  The New York Times article finally is shedding light on what is really happening versus what the administration’s message of what is happening,” said Dahlberg.  “We have a very strong Border Patrol presence here in Ohio and they have created relationships with all of the police departments in these small towns and have said, ‘if you see anybody who looks suspicious, call us.’  This is what we are living now — very heavy handed enforcement that’s part of everyday life now.  What we really want is for the Administration to change their own policies that are trully hurting families in our community.”

Added Monica García, Regional Coordinator at the Border Network for Human Rights in Las Cruces, New Mexico:

Most of the deportations in our records, they’re not criminals.  They’re people who work, they’ve lived here for many years, their record is clean, and they’re being deported.  The Border Patrol doesn’t know what kind of people they’re taking out of our communities.  They need to know who they’re deporting.

David Leopold, Immigration Attorney, Cleveland, OH and Past President of American Immigration Lawyers Association, explained some of the legal aspects of the government’s deportation decisions and classifications.  In particular, he pointed to the Department of Justice’s role in actually prosecuting immigrants for immigration-related offenses, so that they end up with a criminal record and months or years in jail before eventually being deported.

The New York Times digs into the Obama administration’s decision to charge immigration violators who previously would have been removed without formal charges:

In the final year of the Bush administration, more than a quarter of those caught in the United States with no criminal record were returned to their native countries without charges. In 2013, charges were filed in more than 90 percent of those types of cases, which prohibit immigrants from returning for at least five years and exposing those caught returning illegally to prison time.

And according to TRAC, the number of individuals deported after being prosecuted for an immigration violation has risen 167% under Obama.  Tramonte said:

This is a policy decision at the Department of Justice (DOJ) to go the extra mile and turn ordinary immigrants into federal criminals before they are deported.  So far, most of the attention on the need for reforms has focused on Jeh Johnson and the DHS.  Attorney General Eric Holder and the DOJ need to be included.

As Leopold concluded:

You’ve had 3-4 major reports in the last few weeks, from the Pew Report to the Immigration Policy Center to the New York Times report this weekend to the TRAC report today, which all find that contrary to what the Administration says, the people who are being removed have equity and don’t deserve to be deported.  It’s mind-boggling that we’re removing parents of US citizens essentially for being bad drivers.  Most Americans would qualify as criminals when it comes to ICE.  The Administration needs to better protect these people who are being deported.