By Penny Starr
CNSNews.com Senior Staff Writer
April 10, 2008
(CNSNews.com) - A fence has yet to be built along the U.S. border with Mexico, and Congress has failed to come up with a comprehensive immigration policy. Although foreigners continue to sneak into this country, the U.S. government is doing a better job of finding them and sending them back.
According to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, a growing number of illegal aliens — many of them with criminal records — are being deported to their native homelands.
More than 280,500 individuals were deported last year by ICE, a division of the Department of Homeland Security, according to the immigration agency’s annual report for fiscal year 2007, which ended on Sept. 30, 2007. (The report, released in January 2008, has been adjusted to reflect the actual numbers.)
The number of deportations has steadily increased since fiscal year 2003, when some 150,000 people were sent back to their place of origin, according to Pat Reilly, public affairs officer with ICE. Approximately 175,000 illegal immigrants were deported in fiscal years 2004 and 2005. Fiscal year 2006 saw more than 200,000 people forced out of the country.
Reilly said the number of deportations for the current fiscal year is expected to be even more dramatic.
“In the first quarter of fiscal year 2008 — 94,237 people were removed,” Riley told Cybercast News Service . If that trend continues, close to 500,000 illegal aliens could be sent out of the country by the end of this year.
Am estimated 12 million to 20 million illegal aliens are in the United States, but Riley said it’s impossible to give an accurate number. “There’s no viable way to tell how many people get in illegally.”
Riley said there are several reasons for the increasing deportation numbers. One is a policy change made by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to end the “catch and release” policy on the U.S. border.
Previously, suspected illegal immigrants detained at the border were given a “notice to appear” in court for a deportation hearing. “We called it a notice to disappear,” Reilly said.
Individuals who are stopped at the border for illegal entry are now taken into custody by ICE instead of being released on a promise to appear in court.
In previous years, many individuals failed to show up for their deportation hearings, and they became fugitives in the eyes of federal law. “There’s a very large fugitive population in this country,” Reilly said.
Recently, ICE has been more successful in finding fugitive illegal aliens and forcing them to leave the country, Reilly said.
In 2005, there were only 15 ICE teams canvassing the country for individuals who had been ordered to appear in court for deportation hearings but failed to show up. In 2007, 75 teams were on the job, and Reilly said ICE hopes to have 100 teams in place by the end of this year.
In 2006, ICE closed 23,356 “fugitive alien” cases, and that number quadrupled to 102,777 fugitive arrests last year, according to ICE’s annual report.
That fiscal 2007 annual report credits the agency’s high-tech DEPORT Center in Chicago, formed in 2006, with expediting cases of criminal illegal aliens serving time in prison. ICE’s DEPORT Center in Chicago expedites deportation of criminal illegal aliens. Source: Department of Homeland Security
DEPORT uses video teleconference equipment to screen, interview and launch removal proceedings against criminal aliens serving time in prisons across the nation.
Since its inception, ICE says DEPORT has screened over 33,000 cases, issued more than 17,000 charging documents to begin removal proceedings, and lodged more than 11,000 orders for continued detentions. (See ICE Fact Sheet)
Some of the criminal illegal aliens are serving time for murder, predatory sexual offenses, drug trafficking, and smuggling people into the United States.
Reilly said ICE also has expanded its partnership with state and local law enforcement in a program that trains and authorizes police officers to operate as federal immigration agents.
Reilly said at least 30 U.S. cities have signed on to the program, which involves checking the legal status of individuals who are arrested for various offenses. [See related story: Unheralded Program Speeds Up Expulsion of Criminal Aliens From US (May 16, 2007)]
For fiscal year 2008, the U.S. Congress has given ICE a budget of more than $5.5 billion, including $32.8 million for fugitive operations and $26.4 for supporting and training state and local police.
Reilly noted that not all deportations are related to crime. Under the Volunteer Repatriation program, individuals with no criminal record can leave the country of their own accord. In fiscal year 2007, 41,428 of the 280,500 deportation cases were voluntary.