Immigration by the Numbers: Does the Political Rhetoric Match the Statistics?

Whenit was discovered that the perpetrators of the 9/11 terrorist attacks enteredthe US legally with valid visas, immigration enforcement came into the national spotlight.

Holes in the immigration system were blamed for failing to identify theterrorists responsible for the attacks, sparking the creation of the Departmentof Homeland Security (DHS) and its sub-agency, Immigration and CustomsEnforcement (ICE). In response, both the Bush and Obama administrations haveclaimed to place special emphasis on targeting criminals and terrorists for deportationproceedings, but the reality is quite different.

In June, ICE director JohnMorton issued a memocalling for the preservation of government resources by using “prosecutorialdiscretion.” According to Morton, authorities should target cases involving seriouscriminals and those who pose a threat to national security or public safety,instead of non-priority cases that don’t necessarily merit deportation. Intheory, deportation proceedings are used to kick out the “bad guys” and allownon-dangerous immigrants to remain in the US; however the deportation numberstell a different story.

The totalnumber of deportations initiated under the Obama administration since fiscalyear 2009 is slightly under 1 million. Since 9/11, the annual average number ofdeportations has increased 12% under the Obama administration.

Despite theincrease, terrorists and criminals do not constitute the bulk of immigrantsbeing deported. Only 4 deportation proceedings were initiated on terrorismgrounds and 34 on national security grounds, and almost 83% of deportationshave been based on civil immigration law violations, such as working withoutproper authorization. The immigration enforcement net is too wide and is havinga disproportionate effect on individuals who pose no threat to society.

Withbudget cutbacks a growing concern for the federal government and the 2012presidential election on the horizon, the Obama administration will have tomake its immigration enforcement policy better align with the politicalrhetoric. Important government resources should be used to deport moreterrorists, threats to national security, and criminals, not civil lawviolators.

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