More illegal immigrants deported for traffic offenses. Problem for Obama?
US deported a record number of illegal immigrants for drunken driving and other traffic violations in 2010. The trend makes immigrant advocates furious and the get-tough crowd suspicious.
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In response, Rep. Lamar Smith (R) of Texas filed legislation that would curtail the administration's use of broad classifications to guide prosecutorial discretion. Representative Smith particularly pointed to a decrease in workplace immigration raids since the Bush years as an example of the Obama administration's reduced focus on broad-based immigration enforcement.Skip to next paragraph
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"The administration … knows the political reality that the vast majority of Americans want them to enforce the law, so they have to do the best not to enforce the law and yet convince the American people that they actually are," says Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which advocates stricter immigration laws.
Advocates for illegal immigrants say the facts – including this most recent deportation analysis – counter that argument.
Congressman Smith "forgets that President Obama deports more people – about 1,100 per day – than the last president or any president in modern history,” Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D) of Illinois told Congress Thursday in Washington. “He also forgets that we are seeing historically low levels of illegal immigration; that communities along the US-Mexico border are the most crime-free communities in our nation; and that immigration from Mexico is the lowest it has been in six decades."
Nevertheless, the contradiction between the president's "worst of the worst" promise and the fact that some immigrants have been ousted for minor traffic infractions is notable enough that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano pushed back at the Associated Press analysis of ICE statistics.
"The more serious offenders are still in prison," Secretary Napolitano told the AP on Thursday. "We're not going to see them reflected in the numbers until we can begin to remove them" after they undergo trial and serve their sentences.
Moreover, the growth in deportations linked to traffic violations is less a result of vigilance by the Department of Homeland Security than of local jurisdictions, which in increasing numbers are handing over illegal immigrants to federal authorities for prosecution, say immigration policy experts.
"There are bills across the states that are named after someone killed in an accident by someone who is here illegally, and there's enormous, up-close, personal, and hostile reactions to that, because the reaction is that if we [had] enforced our laws this never would have happened," says Mr. Pickus at Duke University.
At the same time, he adds, the emerging patchwork of state and local laws on illegal immigration is not helping to build the political trust that will be needed to build a "grand bargain" for federal immigration reform.