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Obama as border cop: He's deported record numbers of illegal immigrants

New data suggest that the dramatic rise in deportations for illegal immigrants since 9/11 has continued under President Obama, hitting record levels in 2009.

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In April, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed a law that required local police, during the course of their normal duties, to determine the immigration status of potential illegal immigrants. Last month, a federal judge put this and other controversial parts of the law on hold, although some portions became effective July 29.

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The Syracuse report is a rebuke to those backing Arizona-style laws, says Gregory Chen, director of advocacy for the American Immigration Lawyers Association: “It’s a perfect example of how those allegations are based really only in politics.”

Obama too focused on criminals?

But others say the Syracuse report doesn't tell the full story. Removals may be on the rise, but they are not enough to rein in illegal immigration, says Ira Mehlman, a spokesman with the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

“The problem isn’t just criminal aliens, it is a general lack of respect for our laws, and even noncriminal aliens do have a significant impact on state budgets, on unemployment, on all sorts of things.”

Mr. Mehlman says the efforts to remove criminals is a tactic designed to promote an eventual amnesty for illegal immigrants who don’t commit crimes.

The report, however, suggests that a focus on criminals does not necessarily lead to a criminals-only policy. The report singles out the Secure Communities program – which relies on fingerprints from arrests – as one way the federal government can cast a wider net. The program targets not just suspects in serious crimes such as homicide, kidnapping, and sexual assault but also those arrested for traffic violations and a variety of other minor offenses.

The database-driven program is “a very large contributor to the increase in criminal aliens ICE has identified,” says Vincent Picard, an agency spokesman.

Secure Communities was launched in October 2008 and plans are to implement it in every jail by 2013.

Some say the continued rise in deportations may be Obama’s way of trying to win over critics and make his version of comprehensive immigration reform more palatable to opponents.

“The administration is trying to gain credibility – with enhanced enforcement, troops to the border, and by other measures – to make clear it is taking action on immigration,” says Jack Chin, a University of Arizona law professor.