Illegal immigrants are being deported from Washington, D.C., at a lower rate than most states and other big cities under a federal program designed to remove illegal immigrants who have committed violent crimes.
Data from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement show the city deported 30 illegal immigrants in the first 10 months since implementing the Secure Communities program, which calls for local authorities to share fingerprint and criminal data of people brought to jail with ICE so immigration officials can home in on violent or repeat offenders.
The District, which resisted the program’s implementation and enacted a law limiting the city’s cooperation with federal authorities, submitted 17,972 fingerprint records to ICE from the start of the program in June through March 31, resulting in one deportation per 599 submissions. Of the 14 U.S. cities with populations of more than 500,000 that submitted statistics to ICE, the District’s rate was the second lowest — trailing only Baltimore, where one person was deported per every 1,019 fingerprint submissions.
Participation in Secure Communities is federally mandated, but based on legislators’ enthusiasm — or lack thereof — for the program, state and local officials have adopted a patchwork of laws that can help or hinder the program’s efficiency.
Critics in the past have called the District a sanctuary city for its adoption of policies friendly to illegal immigrants. Mayor Vincent C. Gray in 2011 issued an executive order prohibiting police officers and other city employees from inquiring about a person’s immigration status. Mr. Gray last week introduced a bill that would allow illegal immigrants to acquire driver’s licenses.
But it’s the city’s policy that bars the D.C. Jail from honoring ICE detainers filed for inmates that could be a key factor to the District’s low deportation-to-submission rate, said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors a crackdown on immigrants. The federal agency files a notice known as a detainer to let state or local authorities know that it plans to take custody of an individual.
“The District has the strictest and most obstructive policy on detainers,” Ms. Vaughan said. “My guess is that the single most important reason for the difference is the local policy and attitude toward cooperating with ICE.”
Federal officials declined to comment on differences between rates in other jurisdictions.
“ICE will not speculate on why various jurisdictions have different percentage ratios of aliens removed,” spokeswoman Barbara Gonzalez said.
Busiest along the border
Big cities with the highest rates of deportations were near the U.S. border with Mexico. El Paso, Texas, had the highest deportation rate, with one illegal immigrant deported per every 12 fingerprint submissions, followed by San Diego with a rate of one per every 35 submissions.
Compared with states, the District had the ninth-lowest deportation-to-submission rate, after Alaska, Vermont, West Virginia, Maine, Montana, North Dakota, New Hampshire and Hawaii. Alaska, which implemented Secure Communities in April, has deported no illegal immigrants.
The District’s ranking puts it next to states with the lowest percentage of foreign-born residents, Ms. Vaughan said. Yet 13.6 percent of the District’s population is foreign-born and an estimated 4.5 percent — or about 25,000 people — are believed to be illegal immigrants, according to a 2011 study by the Pew Hispanic Center.
The states with the highest deportation-to-submission rates were Texas, California and Arizona, all abutting the Mexico border.
Deportation numbers across the country have risen steadily overall since the program began. But as federal and local governments have altered policies, declines in the numbers of deportations among some categories of illegal immigrants have been reported, said Kristen Williamson, a spokeswoman for the D.C.-based nonprofit Federation for American Immigration Reform, which calls for strict immigration control.