How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

At the border, 'zero-tolerance' leads to more deportations

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In the debate over deportations under the Obama administration, the focus has been on numbers — nearly 2 million since he took office.

But a new report looking at two decades of deportations shows that immigration laws are not administered the same throughout the country, with enforcement applied more bluntly at the border.

"At the border, there is a near zero-tolerance system, where unauthorized immigrants are increasingly subject to formal removal and criminal charges," according to the report by the non-partisan Migration Policy Institute.

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In the country's interior, there has been more "flexibility" by immigration enforcement agents and a decrease in deportations, the report found.

The report comes as President Obama fends off charges that he is the "deporter-in-chief" and his administration deliberates over how to enforce deportation programs "more humanely."

The annual pace of deportations has gone up over the last two decades, from about 70,000 in 1996 to a record 419,000 in 2012, according to the report.

Over the years,  U.S Customs and Border Protection has increasingly funneled a bigger proportion of those apprehended into removal proceedings, says the report.

In contrast, immigrants living in the country's interior illegally tend to have been in the U.S. longer and are not a top enforcement priority for the Department of Homeland Security, which is more focused on criminals and recent arrivals.

Those critical of the Obama administration — such as the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies — say that reduced enforcement in the interior undermines the integrity of immigration law.

"It's a concern, because that's the kind of enforcement that protects jobs, that contributes to public safety, that deters people to try to come here illegally in the first place or overstay," said Jessica Vaughn, the center's director of policy studies.

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