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New report counts fewer criminal deportations; ICE calls analysis 'misleading'

In October, the Obama administration released deportation statistics indicating that a majority of the record 396,906 people deported in fiscal year 2011, which ended Sept. 30, had criminal records. Nearly 55 percent were counted as being convicted of felonies or misdemeanors, with the percentage of criminal removals overall up 89 percent since 2008.

But the numbers in a new report based on immigration court records from Syracuse University's Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) add up differently.

According to the TRAC analysis, of all the deportation proceedings initiated between July and September of this year in the nation's immigration courts, only 13.8 involved individuals charged with having engaged in criminal activity. The analysis also counts fewer removals involving criminal charges this year, as opposed to fiscal year 2010.

Federal immigration officials, one of whom today called the analysis "wildly misleading," attribute the difference to the accounting used. First, a table and excerpt from the TRAC report:

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Not only has ICE targeted relatively few criminals as the basis for seeking deportation in these court proceedings, but this proportion has been declining steadily throughout the past year: 15.8 percent were charged with engaging in criminal activity during the first quarter period (October - December 2010), 15.1 percent during the second quarter (January - March 2011), 14.9 percent during the third quarter (April - June 2011), and finally 13.8 percent during the fourth quarter (July - September 2011).

The average rate across the four quarters for FY 2011 was 14.9 percent.

Why the lower numbers? According to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the report counts deportation proceedings in which individuals' criminal records are taken into account. But many immigrants, particularly those who are in the country illegally (versus legal residents), are removed solely on administrative grounds of violating immigration rules, even when immigration authorities are aware there is a prior criminal record.

"TRAC's report is wildly misleading" wrote ICE spokeswoman Gillian Christensen in an emailed statement. "When removing individuals who have been convicted of a crime and who have no lawful immigration status, like those who illegally cross our border or overstay their visa, ICE is not required to file charging documents in immigration court asserting criminal grounds of removal."

TRAC maintains in the report that the court data casts doubt on the Obama administration's assertion that it is effectively targeting criminals. As for "immigration only" charges in deportation proceedings, i.e. administrative removal charges, those account for 83.4 percent of the total in the report, up slightly for fiscal year 2011 over the previous year.

The data in the report is based on case-by-case immigration court records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act from the Executive Office for Immigration Review, which administers the immigration court system.