Although President Obama has declared his deportation policies are targeting criminals and those negatively affecting their communities, new data analyzed by the New York Times suggests a large majority have only committed minor crimes.
In a new report, the Times found that of the nearly two million deportations carried out by the Obama administration, roughly 66 percent involve those who’ve committed “minor infractions” such as traffic violations. Meanwhile, about 20 percent were convicted of various crimes, including drug-related offenses.
Government records also revealed that some individuals did not have a criminal record leading up to their deportation, and that many have been officially charged for entering or re-entering the United States illegally – something rarely done under previous administrations, and which prohibits immigrants from coming back to the US for five years. Additionally, more people than before are being removed from the country without hearings or chances for appeal.
The situation has triggered a deteriorating relationship between the White House and immigration reform advocates, who claim the administration is not fulfilling the promises it pledged to early in Obama’s presidency.
“For years, the Obama administration’s spin has been that they are simply deporting so-called ‘criminal aliens,’ but the numbers speak for themselves,” Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, said to the Times.
“In truth, this administration — more than any other — has devastated immigrant communities across the country, tearing families away from loved ones, simply because they drove without a license, or re-entered the country desperately trying to be reunited with their family members.”
According to the Times, cases in which undocumented immigrants have been deported for violating traffic laws (including driving under the influence) have surged in the five years Obama has been in office. During George W. Bush’s last five years in office, there were 43,000 such deportations. Under Obama, that number has jumped to 193,000.
For its part, the White House said the numbers are the result of tougher laws and enforcement measures passed by Congress, as well as lawmakers’ unwillingness to offer a pathway to citizenship for undocumented individuals already living in the US.
“The president is concerned about the human cost of separating families,” White House domestic policy advisor Cecilia Muñoz said to the Times. “But it’s also true that you can’t just flip a switch and make it stop.”
The latest numbers come almost a month after Obama announced a review of US deportation practices. As RT reported in March, the president ordered staff to look into whether or not deportations could be handled “more humanely within the confines of the law.” This followed the administration’s previous step in 2012 of allowing those who arrived in the US illegally as children to avoid deportation.
While advocates have welcomed these steps, they also argue Obama should go further and alter policy unilaterally – something he has said he cannot do.
Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress continue to claim Obama has not done enough to increase enforcement at the borders, meaning any decision to slow down deportations could have the added effect of making comprehensive reform less likely. Although the Senate passed an immigration bill last year, the House of Representatives did not take it up, and Republicans have stated they would rather pass their own bill than take up the Senate version.
But while Obama has told supporters there are currently not enough votes for a bill, frustration continues to grow as families are split up.
“We assumed that a Democratic president who wanted to move immigration reform would not pursue a strategy of deporting the people who he was intent on legalizing,” said Deepak Bhargava of the Center for Community Change to the New York Times. “That was a totally wrong assumption. And there is a lot of anger about that.”