About one-quarter of those kicked out of the country did not have criminal records, according to government data obtained by immigration advocacy groups that filed a lawsuit. The groups plan to release the data Tuesday and provided early copies to The Associated Press.
At issue is a fingerprint-sharing program known as Secure Communities that the government says is focused on getting rid of the "worst of the worst" criminal immigrants from the U.S.
Immigration advocates say that the government instead spends too much time on lower-level criminals or non-criminals.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement divides crimes into three categories, with Level 1 being the most serious. Level 1 crimes include actions that threaten or compromise national security, murder, rape, drug crimes punishable by more than one year and even resisting arrest.
Most of those deported committed Level 2 or 3 crimes or were non-criminals, a monthly report of Secure Communities statistics shows.
"ICE has pulled a bait and switch, with local law enforcement spending more time and resources facilitating the deportations of bus boys and gardeners than murderers and rapists and at considerable cost to local community policing strategies, making us all less safe," said Peter Markowitz, director of the Immigration Justice Clinic at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York.
Markowitz's clinic, the National Day Laborer Organizers Network and the Center for Constitutional Rights had requested and sued for the statistics. Immigration and Customs Enforcement posted some of the documents on its website late Monday.
Richard Rocha, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman, said non-criminals still may be people who have failed to show up for deportation hearings, who recently crossed the border illegally or who re-entered the country after deportation. He also said it's important to remember that more people commit crimes that are considered Level 2 and 3.
Secure Communities is "a beneficial partnership tool for ICE and state and local law enforcement agencies helping to identify, prioritize and remove convicted criminal aliens not only from the communities, but also from the country," Rocha said.
The Obama administration wants Secure Communities operating nationwide by 2013.
As of Aug. 3, 494 counties and local and state agencies in 27 states were sharing fingerprints from jail bookings through the program.
From October 2008 through June of this year, 46,929 people identified through Secure Communities were removed from the U.S., the documents show. Of those, 12,293 were considered non-criminals.
California had the highest percentage of immigrants deported who had committed Level 1 crimes, with 38 percent of a total 14,823 immigrants sent out of the country, according to statistics from 24 states participating by the end of June. In Georgia, 39 percent of 624 immigrants removed were non-criminals, the highest rate among the states.