Photo by John Moore/Getty Images
A man waits to be processed at a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facility in Arizona.
It was the Obama administration's strategic trade-off on immigration: A stepped-up approach to enforcement which, the President hoped, would help win over Republican lawmakers for bipartisan support of a sweeping overhaul of the nation's immigration system.
In the end, with insufficient support for anything broader, the only thing to stick this year has been the enforcement. The Obama administration has deported nearly 800,000 immigrants in the past two years, more than during any other two-year period in the nation's history.
The exact numbers for this year have been disputed: The record figure released last fall of more than more than 392,000 deportations in fiscal year 2010, which topped the 2009 record, turned out to include more than 19,000 immigrants removed the previous fiscal year, as well as a small number of repatriations that would normally have been counted by the U.S. Border Patrol.
Still, the administration came close to its expected goal of deporting around 400,000 people in fiscal year 2010. Immigration officials had stated that they would focus on immigrants with criminal convictions, utilizing a pair of controversial programs that rely on cooperation from local law enforcement. A Washington Post story on the deportations cited Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano:
Napolitano credited programs known as 287G and Secure Communities, both of which leverage the reach of local law enforcement officials, for the stepped-up deportations. She said that crime along the border was either stable or falling, and that "some of America's safest cities are right along the southwest border."
But some ICE critics say the effort to target criminals for deportation, which often involves assistance from state and local law enforcement officials, has swept up unauthorized immigrants who had committed minor offenses - or no offenses at all.
When it announced its fiscal year 2010 deportations last fall, the Obama administration also announced that about half of the deportees were people with criminal records. But the programs used to target criminals for deportation cast a wider net: One quarter of those deported through the fingerprint-sharing program known as Secure Communities had no criminal convictions, according to one recent news report.