Yesterday, the Immigration Policy Center released a new fact sheet pointing to a rise in immigration enforcement in the United States over the last decade. The fact sheet comes at a pivotal point. The start of this new year has brought with it renewed speculation about comprehensive immigration reform including if, when, and how it will happen. With little beyond talk at this point though, what advocates, activists and immigrant communities are left with are numbers reflecting a harsh reality.
Contrary to what many Republicans and so-called “common sense” Democrats claim, the fact sheet reveals that immigration laws are enforced more strictly now than ever before. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has reported record numbers of removals during the Obama administration, especially of non-citizens with criminal convictions. Meanwhile, fewer non-citizens are trying to enter the country, most likely due to the U.S.’s poor economy. Together, these trends reflect a sweeping and punitive transformation in U.S. immigration enforcement. Some troubling trends from the fact sheet:
- The number of annual removals has more than doubled over the past decade. In total, there have been more removals during the last ten years than during the previous 110 years combined.
- The number of annual removals now exceeds the number of border apprehensions, suggesting that more noncitizens are being deported from the country than are caught trying to enter in the first place.
- In fiscal 2011, nearly 70% of removals involved noncitizens who were given no opportunity to appear before an immigration judge.
- The number of apprehensions along the border has fallen to levels not seen since the early 1970s, and authorities now regularly prosecute noncitizens for illegally entering and re-entering the country.
- The Secure Communities program is now resulting in more than 40,000 fingerprint matches per month.
The fact sheet implicates deportation focused policy like Secure Communities and its expansion for the record number of removals. Also implicated is the lack of due process afforded to non- citizens. Changes to U.S. immigration laws enacted in 1996 permit DHS to “remove” many noncitizens without holding a hearing before an immigration judge. Under certain circumstances, for example, noncitizens may receive “expedited removal orders” and “reinstatements of removal” without having to appear in court. Indeed, the rise in “removals” over the past decade is largely due to an increase in removal orders issued by DHS officers rather than immigration judges. And while the fact sheet does show that more “criminals” are being deported, the Immigration Policy Center points out that the Department of Homeland Security calls anyone who has been convicted of even the most minor crime. Since fiscal 2009, the most frequent types of criminal convictions for noncitizens removed from the United States involved drug, traffic, and immigration offenses. . In 2011, the government removed 43,022 noncitizens convicted of traffic offenses and 37,458 noncitizens convicted of immigration offenses. Many of those charged with immigration offenses might just as easily have been prosecuted civilly, rendering increases in “criminal” prosecutions in this category somewhat misleading.
This fact sheet comes after another recently released report by the Migration Policy Institute showing record spending on immigration enforcement.
This not so surprising evidence needs to be remembered by advocates and activists as the year moves forward. We can expect a rehashing of the same old “secure the borders first” and “enforcement first” rhetoric when and if the conversation on comprehensive immigration reform evolves beyond wishful thinking. The numbers do not lie and represent a continuing wave of attacks on immigrant families across the United States. Let’s see if the next four years of Obama bring even an inkling of the change voters were promised.