U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) removed 396,906 illegal immigrants from the United Statesin fiscal 2011, the largest number in the agency's history. Nearly 55 percent of them were identified as having been convicted of felonies or misdemeanors.
"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," ICE Director John Morton said Tuesday in announcing the new numbers.
Mr. Morton said the numbers highlight trends that underscore the Obama administration's focus on removing persons who have broken criminal laws and threaten national security, along with recent border crossers, repeat immigration law violators and immigration fugitives.
Some Republicans have suggested the administration's immigration policies go beyond the scope of the law and allow those who entered the country illegally to remain.
Citing a June 17 memo from ICE and an Aug. 18 directive by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, they said in a letter last month to President Obama that his policies "outline and encourage" increased use of prosecutorial discretion and administrative closure of cases pending before the courts.
Eighteen Republicans wrote that they were concerned the memo and directive would result in the closure of an untold number of cases pending before U.S. immigration courts and send a message that the administration is turning "a blind eye" to those who have broken immigration laws.
The Republicans asked Mr. Obama to require Homeland Security to overturn the recent directives.
Of the 396,906 removals, Mr. Morton said 216,698 had been convicted of felonies or misdemeanors — an 89 percent increase in the removal of criminals since fiscal 2008. He said that included 1,119 aliens convicted of homicide; 5,848 aliens convicted of sexual offenses; 44,653 aliens convicted of drug-related crimes; and 35,927 aliens convicted of driving under the influence.
Mr. Morton said ICE achieved similar results with regard to other categories prioritized for removal. Ninety percent of all ICE's removals fell into a priority category, and more than two-thirds of the other removals in fiscal 2011 were either recent border crossers or repeat immigration violators.
Ms. Napolitano has directed ICE to focus its resources as effectively as possible on key priorities. This includes expanding the use and frequency of investigations and programs such as Secure Communities and Operation Cross Check, which target criminal aliens; working closely with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to remove recent border crossers; and focusing on repeat violators of immigration laws and immigration fugitives.
As part of the effort to ensure that the immigration system can focus its resources on high-priority cases, Mr. Morton said ICE has implemented policies and processes that ensure that those enforcing immigration laws make appropriate use of the discretion they already have in deciding the types of persons prioritized for removal from the country.
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