By Bert Eljera
LAS VEGAS – President Barack Obama, who credits his re-election largely to the support of Latinos and other minorities, has deported a record number of immigrants for the fourth straight year.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials announced on Friday that the agency surpassed its record number of deportations in 2011, but vows to initiate reforms to lessen non-criminal deportations.
In 2012, the agency deported, 409,849 immigrants, up from 396,906 immigrants last year. More than 392,000 immigrants were deported in the 2010 fiscal year.
ICE said about 55 percent of those deported were convicted of felonies or misdemeanors.
“While the [fiscal year] 2012 removals indicate that we continue to make progress in focusing resources on criminal and priority aliens, with more convicted criminals being removed from the country than ever before, we are constantly looking for ways to ensure that we are doing everything we can to utilize our resources in a way that maximizes public safety,” ICE Director John Morton said in a statement.
But Latino and other minority community leaders decry the Obama administration’s “overzealousness” to deport immigrants.
In the campaign, Obama promised he will work for a comprehensive immigration reform and address the status of an estimated 11.1 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.
He garnered 71 percent of the Latino vote and received 73 percent of the vote from Asian-Americans, and drew cheers for signing an executive order along the lines of the Dream Act that allowed young immigrants temporary legal status in the U.S.
The childhood arrivals program enables immigrants brought into the country as children to gain a two-year deferred action, in which they could work and gain a pathway to legal status – and possibly citizenship.
However, the number of people deported under Obama has risen in each of his four years in office, culminating in the record set in fiscal year 2012.
“That’s a dubious accomplishment,” said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, which supports a pathway to citizenship for the nation’s 11 million illegal immigrants.
“In reality, these numbers reflect the urgency with which our government needs to create a better immigration process. Instead of spending our limited resources on deportations, we need laws that strengthen our families, our communities and our economy,” he said.
But the Department of Homeland Security said the criticism is misguided, since they are not just increasing the number of people they deport. Over Obama’s first term, the department has increased the percentage of deportees who are convicted criminals or fall into other high-priority categories.
During President George W. Bush’s last year in office, 33% of the people deported by the U.S. were convicted criminals. The Obama administration has increased that percentage each year, reaching 55% in 2012.
In all, 96% of the people deported fall into Homeland Security’s priority categories, including recent border-crossers, repeat immigration violators and fugitives from immigration court.
Latino community leaders said the administration’s policies unfairly harm them. They make up 80 percent of the nation’s illegal immigrant population and 97 percent of deportees last year.
According to the Pew Research, Latinos are confused about the seeming emphasis on deportation.
Forty-one percent of Latinos say they’re aware of the heightened deportations, 36 percent thought the numbers have been comparable to those under Bush, and 10 percent said they thought deportations had declined, the Pew study found.
The Department of Homeland Security currently has all 300,000 pending deportation cases, and grant promises to grant reprieves on a case-by-case basis to individuals who do not have criminal convictions. Only about 15,000 cases have been reviewed so far, officials say.
It was not immediately known how many of the pending deportation cases involve Asian-Americans, but the Asian Law Caucus has recently initiated a petition drive to save two families from deportation.
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