De­por­ta­tions at record lev­els un­der Obama

Austin American-Statesman - - WORLD & NATION - By Peter Slevin

In a bid to re­make the en­force­ment of fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion laws, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion is de­port­ing record num­bers of il­le­gal im­mi­grants and au­dit­ing hun­dreds of busi­nesses that blithely hire un­doc­u­mented work­ers.

The Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment agency ex­pects to de­port about 400,000 peo­ple this bud­get year, nearly 10 per­cent above the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion’s 2008 to­tal and 25 per­cent more than in 2007. The pace of com­pany au­dits has roughly quadru­pled since Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush’s fi­nal year in of­fice.

The ef­fort is part of Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s larger project “to make our na­tional laws ac­tu­ally work,” as he put it in a speech this month at Amer­i­can Uni­ver­sity. Partly de­signed to en­tice Repub­li­cans to sup­port com­pre­hen­sive im­mi­gra­tion re­form, the mis­sion is prov­ing dif­fi­cult and po­lit­i­cally per­ilous.

Obama is draw­ing flak from those who con­tend the ad­min­is­tra­tion is weak on border se­cu­rity and from those who are dis­ap­pointed that he has not done more to ful­fill his cam­paign prom­ise to help the coun­try’s es­ti­mated 11 mil­lion il­le­gal res­i­dents. The pres­i­dent con­tends that en­force­ment — in­clud­ing the de­ploy­ment of fresh troops to the Mex­ico border — is a nec­es­sary but in­suf­fi­cient so­lu­tion.

A June 30 mem­o­ran­dum from the im­mi­gra­tion agency’s di­rec­tor, John Mor­ton, in­structed of­fi­cers to fo­cus their “prin­ci­pal at­ten­tion” on felons and re­peat law­break­ers. The pol­icy, in­flu­enced by a se­ries of White House meet­ings, also tar­gets re­peat border crossers and de­clares that par­ents car­ing for chil­dren or the in­firm should be de­tained only in un­usual cases.

“We’re try­ing to put our money where our mouth is,” Mor­ton said in an in­ter­view, de­scrib­ing the goal as a ra­tio­nal im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy. “You’ve got to have ag­gres­sive en­force­ment against crim­i­nal of­fend­ers. You have to have a se­cure border. You have to have some in­tegrity in the sys­tem.”

Mor­ton said the 400,000 peo­ple ex­pected to be de­ported this year — ei­ther phys­i­cally re­moved or al­lowed to leave on their own — rep­re­sent the max­i­mum the over­bur­dened pro­cess­ing, de­ten­tion and im­mi­gra­tion court sys­tem can han­dle.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has been mov­ing away from us­ing work-site raids to tar­get em­ploy­ers. Just 765 un­doc­u­mented work­ers have been ar­rested at their jobs this bud­get year, com­pared with 5,100 in 2008, ac­cord­ing to Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity fig­ures. In­stead, of­fi­cers have in­creased em­ployer au­dits, study­ing the em­ployee doc­u­men­ta­tion of 2,875 com­pa­nies sus­pected of hir­ing il­le­gal work­ers and as­sess­ing $6.4 mil­lion in fines.

On the ground, a pro­gram known as Se­cure Com­mu­ni­ties uses the fin­ger­prints of peo­ple in cus­tody for other rea­sons to iden­tify de­portable im­mi­grants. Mor­ton pre­dicts it will “over­haul the face of im­mi­gra­tion.” The ad­min­is­tra­tion has ex­panded the sys­tem to 437 jails and pris­ons from 14 and aims to ex­tend it to “ev­ery law en­force­ment ju­ris­dic­tion” by 2013.

The project has iden­ti­fied 240,000 il­le­gal im­mi­grants con­victed of crimes, ac­cord­ing to Home­land Se­cu­rity fig­ures. Of those, about 30,000 have been de­ported, in­clud­ing 8,600 con­victed of what the agency calls “the most egre­gious of­fenses.”

While the ad­min­is­tra­tion fo­cuses on some il­le­gal im­mi­grants with crim­i­nal records, oth­ers are al­lowed to re­main free. “That’s no way of en­forc­ing im­mi­gra­tion law,” said Mark Kriko­rian, a sup­porter of stricter poli­cies with the Cen­ter for Im­mi­gra­tion Stud­ies.

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