ICE Sees Record Numbers of Criminals Deported in 2007


As U.S. immigration officials have stepped up deportation, focusing on criminals has been a key part of the process, both because those involved in criminal activity may have their immigration status checked more easily, and also because their criminal status makes their departure more pressing for policymakers looking to make a public example of the illegal immigration issue in the United States.

According to statistics featured in the Washington Post, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement office placed 164,000 criminals in deportation proceedings in 2007, a sharp rise from the 64,000 from 2006. And this upward trend will continue, as ICE suggests that as many as 200,000 criminals could be deported in 2008.

The bulk of these criminals are not being deported from prison populations. Rather, the ICE is clamping down on newly arrested illegal immigrants and those legal immigrants whose visas are revoked after they commit a crime.

Part of their work has been improving collaborative efforts with local law enforcement to better research and identify illegal immigrants among people who are arrested for committing crimes. New information sharing and databases have made this kind of collaboration possible, as well as more conscious efforts by police officers, probation officers and other local law officers to research immigration status of a suspect or arrested individual.

The price of these improved deportation techniques may, however, be a tendency to overreach in legal matters. For example, legal officials are noting that officers are bringing in minor matters to court when it involves a potential illegal immigrant, and some criminal defense attorneys worry that falsified or trumped up charges in order to bring the immigration status of the individual to light might be a tragic result.

That concern extends to legal immigrants with permanent residence status as well, who can be deported if convicted of an “aggravated felony”, according to an immigration law passed in 1996.

Just How Many Criminals in California are Illegal Immigrants?

The question of immigrants and criminal tendencies has been put to an extensive study in the state of California by an independent research firm called the Public Policy Institute of California. A new immigration and crime report titled “Crime, Corrections, and California: What Does Immigration Have to Do with It?” compares incarceration of foreign-born residents to U.S.-born residents in demographic age groups statistically likely to commit crimes.

The study found that among men age 18-40, U.S.-born men were 10 times more likely than foreign-born men to be in jail, 4.2% to 0.42%. Even considering populations that are the most likely to have entered the U.S. illegally-non-citizen men from Mexico, ages 18-40-low institutionalization rates are seen across California.

Of course, many would caution against reading too much into these statistics, since they do not separate legal from illegal immigrants (this is a fault that the study investigators acknowledge up front in the report). Finding reliable data on illegal immigrants proves to be difficult if not impossible, naturally, since illegal immigrants are cautious about jeopardizing their presence in this country by participating in research studies.

Two measures designed to help correct for this error and work toward comparing more demographically-similar populations are comparing by educational level and by crime rate in city areas. This would prevent highly-educated foreign-born professionals from being compared with less-educated groups, for example.

When comparing men of the studied age group with the same number of years of education, in fact, the difference of percentages of institutionalized men from that group increases. Likewise, many cities with extraordinarily high immigration populations individually exhibited lower crime rates during periods of intensive immigration movement.

California is a particularly good test case, since it had the largest number of immigrants in 2007, nearly 10 million according to a Center for Immigration Studies analysis, and has the largest share of its state population embodied by immigrants and their U.S.-born children (37.8%, as well as an astonishing 50.0% in Los Angeles County alone).

At the very least, the PPIC study suggests that further research on the subject might uncover important public policy information on how best to handle the hotly-contested issue of immigration policy. In any case, these different perspectives suggest how difficult shaping immigration policy when it becomes clear that public perception and the facts on the ground may be telling different truths.