Reporting from Washington — The Obama administration deported a record number of illegal immigrants in the 2010 fiscal year, according to figures released Wednesday by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Of the 392,862 deportations from October 2009 through September of this year, about half were illegal immigrants with criminal records. The total was about 3,000 more deportations than the record set in the previous year.
The second straight year of record deportations from the U.S. reflects the approach of ICE under the Obama administration to focus its efforts on removing criminal illegal immigrants "who pose a national security or public safety threat," Homeland Security Deputy Press Secretary Matt Chandler said in a statement.
More than 195,000 criminals were deported in 2010, a 70% increase over 2008 in the forced removal of immigrant criminals. Officials credited the increase to programs such as Secure Communities, which focuses law enforcement resources on identifying illegal immigrants who have committed crimes and are being held in local and state jails.
"ICE is committed to tough law enforcement," agency Director John Morton said.
The report comes at a time when the number of illegal immigrants coming into the U.S. is declining, according to a report released in September by the Pew Hispanic Center.
Based on census and labor statistics, the Pew report found that roughly 300,000 illegal immigrants crossed the border annually between 2007 and 2009, down from about 850,000 annually from 2000 to 2005.
The Obama administration said when the report was released that the data provided evidence that efforts to improve border security were working. Over the summer, the administration deployed 1,200 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border to bolster efforts to stop illegal entry, and the U.S. has cracked down on employers who hire illegal immigrants.
The administration also has weathered criticism from liberals and conservatives over its deportation policy. Immigration reform advocates say President Obama has reneged on a campaign promise to overhaul the government's immigration policy and instead has favored increased enforcement.
Critics on the right say ICE is selectively enforcing the immigration laws by focusing on criminals. When the ICE employees union announced a vote of no confidence in Morton's leadership in June, it cited the agency's focus on immigrant criminals.
"We haven't done a good job explaining the enforcement strategy," said an administration official.
Still unresolved is what to do about the millions of illegal immigrants living in the U.S.
"As effective as they are being," said Angela Kelley, an immigration policy expert at the Center for American Progress, "they can't deport their way out of the fact that there are 11 million people here without status."