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Report shows deportations hinge largely on immigration - not criminal - violations, despite White House claims 

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There seems to be an information gap when it comes to the Obama administration's claims about immigration enforcement. Despite insistence from White House and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials that the priority is now to deport undocumented immigrants with a criminal record, data from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a research arm of Syracuse University, shows the vast majority of deportations launched in 2011 focus only on immigration violations. TRAC's stats were obtained from the Department of Justice under a Freedom of Information Act request tracking offenses filed in immigration court for deportation hearings (go here to browse the data state by state or by individual immigration court). The administration continues to tout that over half of the nearly 400,000 immigrants deported by ICE in 2011, a record number, were convicted of crimes. And there's been heated contention over ICE's new guiding policy to review and prioritize deportation cases, including claims from Texas GOP Congressman Lamar Smith and others decrying the new approach as “backdoor amnesty” for immigrant students and undocumented parents with deep ties to the U.S. (see “Lamar Smith's push to HALT the DREAM Act) But going by data compiled by TRAC, little has changed since ICE's supposed policy shift in enforcement. TRAC's report shows that immigrants charged with or convicted of crimes made up just 13.8 percent of deportation cases filed in 2011, a drop from the already low level of just 16.5 percent of such cases in 2010. In Texas, which saw 47,766 deportation cases initiated in 2011, more than any other state, 83 percent of those cases were based on immigration-related, not criminal, charges. And San Antonio's immigration court saw the highest number of deportation cases in the state at 10,370, nearly 85 percent of which were based on immigration-related violations, not criminal charges. Administration claims that ICE is targeting and deporting a large and increasing number of convicted criminals don't seem to line up with hard data out of the immigration court system, said Sue Long, TRAC co-director and a senior researcher on the report. “Even with this new priority, the numbers show these cases [immigrants who are convicted criminals] are going the opposite way, and they're actually at a historic low. I mean, it just makes no sense when you consider what the White House and ICE are telling us,” she said. ICE spokeswoman Gillian Christensen insisted TRAC's report is “wildly misleading.” The report, she said, focuses only on the technical legal language for removal filed with the immigration court and ignores any criminal history that triggered ICE's decision to seek deportation in the first place. When removing undocumented immigrants who have been convicted of crimes, she said, ICE isn't required to file those criminal charges in court. “In these cases, an individual's criminal history, while relevant to ICE's decision to seek removal, is largely irrelevant to the legal question of whether the person has a right to remain in the U.S.” Long says despite a 20-month standing request, ICE has yet to provide records that could back up its claim. If the White House and ICE aren't misrepresenting their claims about deporting criminal immigrants, they should provide the data that proves it, she said. If in fact they're really targeting serious criminals, then why are they withholding this information?” she questioned. “It's public information, they're not claiming otherwise. We just can't get them to respond to our [FOIA] request.” Long's report goes on to explain:
TRAC's findings appear to contrast sharply with the White House's announcement that: "Under the President's direction, for the first time ever the Department of Homeland Security has prioritized the removal of people who have been convicted of crimes in the United States." The findings also are hard to reconcile with ICE's recent press statementsthat claimed that during the past year the agency had targeted a large and increasing number of convicted criminals for deportation. Unfortunately, while the agency could easily clear up these apparent discrepancies it has chosen not to do so. Indeed, for twenty months, in clear violation of public disclosure laws, ICE has persisted in withholding from TRAC the case-by-case data TRAC requested under FOIA that the agency maintains on these same court proceedings — information precisely parallel to what the Department of Justice already determined must be released to the public from its own files. DHS and other government offices have failed to rectify this matter despite TRAC's appeals to DHS's Director of Disclosure and FOIA Operations, as well as to the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS).
By Michael Barajas, [email protected]

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