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Deportations of illegal immigrants hit record high, officials announce

October 6, 2010 | 12:42 pm

More than 392,000 illegal immigrants were deported from the United States in fiscal year 2010, the highest number in the country’s history, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced Wednesday.

“We have deployed unprecedented infrastructure, unprecedented technology, unprecedented manpower,” Napolitano said during a news conference in Washington, D.C. 

Napolitano and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton attributed the numbers to increased border enforcement, workplace enforcement and an expansion of the department’s Secure Communities program.

Secure Communities, which uses fingerprints to identify illegal immigrants in state prisons and local jails, has gone from 14 jurisdictions in 2008 to more than 660, officials said. The department is on track to expand the program to every law-enforcement jurisdiction in the nation by 2013, Napolitano said. 

Half of deported immigrants in the last fiscal year were convicted of crimes, Napolitano said. Of those, 33% were convicted of what ICE considered the most serious crimes, which included murder, rape and major drug crimes. The others were convicted of lesser crimes such as burglary, domestic violence, some property crimes and other offenses.

“The numbers reflect our continued focus on those who pose a public-safety threat to our communities,” Napolitano said.

In addition, since January 2009, ICE has audited more than 3,200 employers suspected of hiring illegal labor, debarred 225 companies and individuals, and imposed about $50 million in financial sanctions—more than the total amount of audits and debarments than during the entire previous administration, she said.

A coalition of immigrant-rights groups, including the Center for Constitutional Rights and the National Day Laborer Organization Network, called the numbers misleading and said that statistics obtained from ICE showed that nearly 80% of people detained through the Secure Communities program were not criminals or were arrested for lower-level offenses.

Sheriff Lee Baca, who attended the news conference alongside Adrian Garcia, sheriff of Harris County in  Texas, and Stan Barry, the sheriff of Virginia's Fairfax County, called the announcement “very good news” and said his department had identified 21,000 people in its jails eligible for deportation.

“Secure Communities does work,” Baca said. “It’s an excellent policy.”

-- Paloma Esquivel