Federal immigration enforcement officials touted a record-high percentage of criminals deported from the U.S. with the release of the latest annual deportation figures Thursday.
Among 368,644 deportations in fiscal year 2012-13, 58.8 percent of those illegal immigrants had prior criminal convictions, marking the highest rate of criminal deportees in five years, according to an annual report released by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
In FY 2011-12, convicted criminals accounted for 54.9 percent of all deportees.
ICE officials also noted that this year the share of convicted criminals was even greater — 82 percent — among those people removed from the U.S. interior, as opposed to those apprehended while attempting to cross the border illegally.
“The FY 2013 numbers make clear we that we are enforcing our nation’s laws in a smart and effective way,” acting ICE Director John Sandweg said in a nationwide conference call with reporters Thursday, “meeting our enforcement priorities by focusing on convicted criminals while also continuing to secure our nation’s borders in partnership with (U.S. Customs and Border Protection.)”
In recent years, programs such as Secure Communities have signaled a new focus by the agency on targeting criminals in the country illegally, giving highest priority to those with aggravated felony convictions, outstanding felony warrants and those who previously have been deported.
Now mandated among all local law enforcements agencies, including the Knox County Sheriff’s Office, Secure Communities is a data-sharing program to screen all arrestees nationwide for immigration violations as they are booked into local jails.
The overall number of deportations, however, represented a significant drop from the nearly 410,000 individuals deported in the previous year.
Sandweg attributed the decline, again, to the increased focus on targeting high-priority criminals.
“We did a better job of identifying serious offenders,” Sandweg said. “And those cases take more time.”
Those people apprehended while attempting to illegally cross the border, or shortly thereafter, still accounted for the majority of all deportees in the 12-month period ending Sept. 30, totalling nearly 64 percent of deportations.
The annual report also notes a 27 percent increase among apprehended border crossers who were from countries other than Mexico.