Illegal immigration: Most illegal immigrants deported in 2010 were criminals – but what does that mean?

Illegal immigration: The Obama administration says that 55 percent of the nearly 400,000 illegal immigrants deported in 2010 had criminal records. Guest blogger Mike Allison says those numbers need further context.

The US Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement are touting that the Obama administration deported nearly 400,000 people from the United States in 2010. Headlines report that about 55 percent of the 396,906 individuals deported had felony or misdemeanor convictions. (Remember, these are the numbers that the administration already manipulated 11 months ago.)

Okay, so 55 percent of 396,906 had criminal records. That gives us approximately, 218,298 deported with criminal records (and 178,608 without a record). We "know" that 1,119 were convicted of homicide, 5,848 of sexual offenses, 44,653 of drug-related offenses, and 35,927 of driving under the influence. That adds up to 87,547.

Let's assume these convictions were legitimate. That leaves another 130,751 deportees with “other” criminal records. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director couldn't give a number as to how many of these deportees' only offense was a previous immigration violation, but he really needs to know. Had they committed assault, robbery, trespassing?

Are we talking about 87,000 (22 percent) or 218,000 (55 percent) “hardened” criminals deported in 2010? I'm guessing that since he didn't have the answer to such a basic and predictable questions, most of the remaining deportees were simply people desperate enough to get to the US a second or third time.

The other thing to try to keep in perspective is the denominator. In this week's news stories, the denominator is ~400,000. That's the number of people deported in 2010, slightly more than half of which had criminal records. That's what the administration is using as evidence that they are focused on deporting those people who have committed crimes or who are a threat to the US.

However, that might not be the best way to answer the question of whether the administration is focused on the worst of the worst. We would really want to know how many of the 10-11 million illegal immigrants have committed felonies and misdemeanors (probably an unknown number) and how many of those individuals the government has successfully apprehended and deported. Don't compare criminal deportations to non-criminal deportations.

--- Mike Allison is an associate professor in the Political Science Department and a member of the Latin American and Women's Studies Department at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania. You can follow his Central American Politics blog here.

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