According to the newly released figures, administrative arrests of violators of immigration laws fell 68 percent from 2008 to 2009, criminal arrests fell 60 percent, criminal indictments fell 58 percent and convictions fell 63 percent.
Fiscal 2008 ran from Oct. 1, 2007, through Sept. 30, 2008. Fiscal 2009 began Oct. 1, 2008, and ran through Sept. 30 of this year. Mr. Obama took office Jan. 20.
In an April memo, Marcy M. Forman, director of ICE’s Office of Investigation, laid out the new enforcement policy.
She said arresting illegal immigrant workers is still important but the focus must shift to employers.
“Enforcement efforts focused on employers better target the root causes of illegal immigration,” she said, pointing to numbers that showed that under the Bush administration in 2008, employers made up just 2 percent of all work site arrests.
She also said ICE agents also should go after employers not just for hiring, but also look for mistreatment of workers and evidence of human trafficking, identity fraud or money laundering.
The Obama administration has promised to pursue a new legalization program next year. It would create a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants who commit to steps such as paying back taxes and waiting a set period of years.
In a speech last week, Ms. Napolitano said they have made enough progress on border security and immigration enforcement that Congress can now turn its attention to legalization.
But Republicans said her speech was premature. They pointed to uncertainties about the numbers and that with hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants still being apprehended on the borders, the flow has not been controlled.
They also argue that legalizing illegal immigrants in the middle of a recession is unfair to Americans looking for jobs.
Led by Mr. Smith and Rep. Steve King, Iowa Republican, House Republicans are holding a forum Thursday to look at how illegal immigrants are affecting the job market.
Stephen Dinan can be reached at email@example.com.
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