The Obama administration has dramatically changed the composition of those it's deporting now that President Obama's non-deportation policy is in effect, setting an overall record for the number of people kicked out of the U.S. last year.
It's more than the overall total of 409,849 deportations, which the administration released late Friday. In the final five weeks of the year, after the policy took effect, 78 percent of all aliens removed from the country had criminal records — up 50 percent from what it was before the policy was implemented.
Since taking the reins, Mr. Obama has dramatically rearranged the country's deportation policy, increasingly turning attention away from rank-and-file illegal immigrants and focusing instead on gang members, aliens with criminal convictions and those who have violated immigration law repeatedly.
"Smart and effective immigration enforcement relies on setting priorities for removal and executing on those priorities," U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton said in releasing the deportation numbers.
All told in fiscal year 2012, which ended Sept. 30, the federal government deported 225,390 criminal aliens, another 86,590 who were repeat immigration-law violators, nearly 10,000 fugitives and more than 60,000 removed by ICE after they were caught at the border. Those border removals were in addition to those returned to their home countries by the U.S. Border Patrol.
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 that 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 memo.
The carve-outs did little to appease immigrant rights advocates.
"In the 409,849 deportations are hardened criminals for whom I have no sympathy, but we must also realize that among these hundreds of thousands of deportations are parents and breadwinners and heads of American families that are assets to American communities and have committed no crimes," said Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, Illinois Democrat and chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus' immigration task force.
Mr. Gutierrez said the U.S. deports about 90,000 parents of U.S. citizen children every year and that means those children often end up in taxpayer-funded foster care.
Speaking Saturday on MSNBC, Mr. Gutierrez criticized Mr. Obama for having failed to put enough muscle behind immigration reform since his re-election.
"The president has taken some very good steps," he said of his fellow Chicagoan. "Would I have liked to have seen the president have fewer Christmas parties and more gatherings to speak about this issue during the last few weeks? Yes."
"I know that he's dealing with very momentous issues, but at the same time I also see a calendar at the White House," Mr. Gutierrez said. "Look, it's great that Eva Longoria from 'Desperate Housewives' is out there, meeting with the president, but maybe he should gather more of the immigrant community so we can begin to polish up that immigration policy and get a strategy so that we can really start."
After three years of criticism from advocates, Mr. Obama instituted a policy Aug. 15 that orders authorities not to deport most illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, and it follows on orders to try to focus 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, according to an analysis by The Washington Times. But over the final 36 days of the fiscal year, 78 percent of all deportations were convicted criminals.
Mr. Obama's administration has steadily increased deportations, from 390,000 in fiscal 2009 — which was split between President George W. Bush and Mr. Obama — to nearly 410,000 last fiscal year.
The Obama administration says given the resources it asks for and Congress gives every year, ICE can deport only about 400,000 immigrants annually.
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