The Obama administration deported a record 409,849 illegal immigrants in the last fiscal year, with the majority of them convicted criminals, according to statistics released Friday.
It also released a new policy ordering agents not to go after illegal immigrants convicted of crimes unless they have committed at least three misdemeanors — and said that minor misdemeanors shouldn’t count.
The increase in deportations comes even as President Obama has rewritten immigration priorities and tried to make sure rank-and-file illegal immigrants, particularly those brought to the U.S. as children, are not deported.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency responsible for deportations, said 96 percent of all deportations were in key priority categories in fiscal year 2012, which ended Sept. 30.
“Smart and effective immigration enforcement relies on setting priorities for removal and executing on those priorities,” said ICE Director John Morton.
Mr. Obama instituted a new policy Aug. 15 that orders authorities not to deport most illegal immigrants brought here as children, and it follows on earlier orders to try to focus only on dangerous criminals and repeat immigration law violators.
That order dramatically changed the composition of deportations. Before Aug. 25, about 52 percent of all deportations were convicted criminals, but over the final 36 days of the fiscal year 78 percent of all deportations were convicted criminals.
The statistics were released two months later than usual.
No explanation was given for the delay, but Mr. Morton released new guidance along with the deportation numbers that tells ICE agents to avoid going after even more categories of rank-and-file illegal immigrants. That guidance could assuage the concerns of immigrant-rights groups who say the Obama administration is deporting too many people.
Among the new rules is that ICE agents should wait until an illegal immigrant has three or more misdemeanor convictions before being picked up — and traffic offenses don’t count.
“Given limited enforcement resources, three or more convictions for minor traffic misdemeanors or other relatively minor misdemeanors alone should not trigger a detainer unless the convictions reflect a clear and continuing danger to others or disregard for the law,” Mr. Morton said in the new memo.
The Obama administration says given the resources ICE has, it can deport about 400,000 immigrants per year.
The 409,849 deported in 2012 is a 3 percent increase from 2011.