Obama deportation toll on track to pass 2 million

Focus on deporting minor criminals has meant greater number of deportees with children in the U.S.

Published February 1, 2013 1:33PM (EST)

  (Constantine Pankin/Shutterstock)
(Constantine Pankin/Shutterstock)

At current rates, deportations enforced under the Obama presidency are set to hit 2 million by 2014, according to a new report from the University of California-Merced. Findings highlight that if current deportation rates continue, nearly as many people will have been deported under this administration as during the entirety of the years between 1892 and 1997. These are striking statistics to consider while Congress debates the president's commitment to immigration enforcement.

The report notes that under Obama, the deportation of convicted criminals has been a focus and a point of pride for the administration. However, as immigrant justice advocates have often stressed, the report points out that "many of these criminal deportees are deported after a minor criminal conviction":

In 2011, 188,382 people were deported on criminal grounds. Nearly a quarter were deported after a drug conviction, another 23% for traffic crimes, and one in five for immigration crimes. The DHS does not get very specific about these convictions, but we do know that drug crimes include marijuana possession; traffic crimes include speeding; and immigration crimes include illegal entry and re-entry.

It is likely that large numbers of people apprehended through the Criminal Alien Program are minor drug offenders and immigration offenders. Additionally, it is likely that the Criminal Alien Program is tearing apart families. One study found that, on average, people deported after being convicted of a crime had lived 14 years in the United States.

The report also notes that nearly one-quarter of deportees since mid-2010 are parents of children in the U.S. -- a fact connected to the increased focus on criminal deportations. "The focus on criminal deportations has led to enhanced interior enforcement, and that this in turn is the reason so many parents of U.S. citizens are being deported," the report claims. Its author Tanya Golash-Boza, an associate professor of sociology who is writing a book about immigration enforcement, told HuffPo, "On the one hand Obama gets to say, 'I've deported all of these criminals ... On the other hand, not only are the people minor criminals, but they're also much more likely to be people that are living, working, have children in the United States than even just a few years ago."

Although unmentioned in Tanya Golash-Boza's study, a recent report from the Migration Policy Institute noted that the U.S. spends more on immigration enforcement than on all other federal law enforcement combined. And, as Human Rights Watch noted in its World Report this week, "illegal re-entry into the U.S. has become the most prosecuted federal crime. In 2011, prosecutions for illegal entry and re-entry into the U.S. surpassed 34,000 and 37,000 respectively. Many of those prosecuted for these crimes have minor or no criminal history and have substantial ties to the US."

Supporters of immigration reform believe these figures serve as a riposte to lawmakers, predominantly Republicans, who say federal authorities must do much more to strengthen enforcement before Congress can consider any legalization for the U.S.'s estimated 11 million illegal immigrants.

By Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com.

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Barack Obama Deportation Dhs Ice Immigration Immigration Reform