According to new data from the Transitional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, fewer immigrants deported by the Obama Administration in Fiscal Year 2011 had criminal charges then the deportees in 2010. So just as the Administration was ensuring the immigrant rights community that they were focusing their attentions on criminals (often, “violent criminals”), less of the people they were deporting had criminal records. TRAC obtained the data through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The data takes in new data from July to September 2011, the last quarter of the fiscal year. In that quarter, according to TRAC, only 13.8% of all deportees were “charged with having engaged in criminal activities.” The total percentage for FY2011 is 14.9%, down from 16.5% in FY2010. The percentage has decreased each quarter in 2011.

The total numbers of deportation proceedings initiated in immigration courts by Immigration and Customs Enforcement is actually smaller here than the numbers commonly thrown about. According to TRAC, 245,706 individuals were charged in FY2010, compared to 226,342 in FY2011 (with the data still fresh, that number is expected to rise for FY2011). Only 42 of these cases in FY2011 included national security or terrorism charges. The vast majority of these individuals in both years were charged only with violating immigration rules. This is not among the list of crimes that the White House says are the “top priority” when looking to deport undocumented immigrants.

From the TRAC analysis:

TRAC’s findings appear to contrast sharply with the White House’s announcement that: “Under the President’s direction, for the first time ever the Department of Homeland Security has prioritized the removal of people who have been convicted of crimes in the United States.” The findings also are hard to reconcile with ICE’s recent press statements that claimed that during the past year the agency had targeted a large and increasing number of convicted criminals for deportation.

Unfortunately, while the agency could easily clear up these apparent discrepancies it has chosen not to do so. Indeed, for twenty months, in clear violation of public disclosure laws, ICE has persisted in withholding from TRAC the case-by-case data TRAC requested under FOIA that the agency maintains on these same court proceedings — information precisely parallel to what the Department of Justice already determined must be released to the public from its own files. DHS and other government offices have failed to rectify this matter despite TRAC’s appeals to DHS’s Director of Disclosure and FOIA Operations, as well as to the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS).

The records ICE is withholding would show just which ICE programs — such as Secure Communities or others — have contributed to fewer alleged criminals being targeted for deportation in court proceedings. The data would also allow the public to judge whether ICE’s actual activities match ICE’s announced policies to target serious criminals, and those who pose threats to public safety, as well as to better monitor how the agency exercises prosecutorial discretion in whom it seeks to deport.

It usually takes embarrassing reports like this for federal officials to finally come out and try to spin the data, in the interest of “setting the record straight.” Maybe now ICE will decide to step forward.

The White House has initiated a review of all cases in their deportation pipeline, over 300,000, for a review, allegedly to weed out the criminals from those caught up in the immigration system, to prioritize deportations going forward.

UPDATE: The Department of Homeland Security disputes the figures, even though they came out of the immigration courts through a Freedom of Information Act request. ICE claims that criminal history was not taken into account. Of course, ICE doesn’t include criminal histories in their charging documents, so you have to take their word for it.

David Dayen

David Dayen

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