In recent weeks, there has been a flurry of news about deportation statistics.
Clarity about the direction of immigration law has been conspicuously absent.
Whether due to careless inadvertence, cruel indifference, or calloused intentions, the inconsistency from press release to press release is baffling even for seasoned reporters.
As a result, many of their headlines contradict each other.
- On October 18, 2011, USA Today announced “Most illegal immigrants deported last year were criminals”.
- Merely two days later, on October 20, 2011, CNN declared “Deportation reviews to begin shortly”.
- Then, on October 25, 2011, the Riverside Press Enterprise proclaimed, “Deportation rates drop in California”.
When major media outlets highlight such contrary trends, who can blame the public for its confusion about immigration issues?
Conflicting Headlines Or Conflicting Policies?
The real question is not whether the headlines contradict each other. Rather, the inquiry should be whether underlying immigration policies are in conflict.
October 18, 2011: Record-Breaking Deportations
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director John Morton reveals 396,906 immigrants were deported in fiscal year 2011. This is a new one-year record.
According to Morton, approximately 55% were “criminal aliens.” The other 45% had no criminal records.
However, as explored in “The Politics of Deportations: Immigrants As Election Fodder”, Morton’s commentary is not entirely accurate.
To begin, Morton’s version on deporting criminal aliens is a mildly watered-down assertion of President Obama’s claim that the primary government targets are those immigrants with serious criminal convictions.
A closer look at the numbers show perhaps up to 83% of the deportees did not fit into the serious criminal offense category.
More arrests, of course, lead to more immigrants being placed in immigration court proceedings. This includes serious criminal offenders, non-serious criminal offenders, and non-offenders.
October 20, 2011: Too Many Deportation Cases
Janet Napolitano, Department of Homeland Security Secretary, announces the Obama administration will begin reviewing deportation cases at immigration courts in 2 -3 weeks.
The review panel’s first task is to distinguish low priority from high priority cases. High priority cases involve immigrants who have committed serious criminal offenses. Those who have been convicted of minor crimes, or no crimes, and can show strong family and community ties, fall into the low priority cases.
The primary goal, says Napolitano, is to keep low priority cases from entering and cluttering the immigration court system. Additionally, the panel hopes to remove low priority matters from the overburdened judicial dockets.
As a deportation defense attorney, I was surprised Napolitano was not questioned about the administration’s policy conflict between record-breaking detention numbers and reducing the immigration court overload.
October 25, 2011: Less Immigrants Being Deported
California Watch, a nonprofit and nonpartisan investigative news group, reports the number of immigrants deported by immigration judges have declined about 10% in recent years.
This figure seems to clash with both sets of statistics given a week earlier.
On the one hand, if the number of detainees are increasing at a record pace, how can the courts be deporting less individuals?
On the other, if judges are deporting less immigrants, is there really a need to take lower priority cases out of the system?
A Broken Immigration Court Agenda
In actuality, assuming immigration courts are deporting fewer immigrants, there are three possible reasons:
- First, fewer cases are entering the immigration court system. This is unlikely, given ICE’s record breaking year.
- Second, more immigrants are winning their deportation cases. As a San Diego immigration lawyer, I know this is not taking place.
- Third, less matters are being processed to completion. This is the most likely reason for the lower amount of deportations.
Putting it all together, a picture of a broken immigration court agenda emerges.
As more cases enter the system, the backlog grows. As the backlog grows, hearing dates are stretched out. This means it longer to complete immigration cases.
Fewer completions equals fewer deportations.
This process begs the real issue.
Is this administration committed to focusing on serious criminals and violent offenders?
Or is this administration committed to reaching its deportation quotas, regardless whether serious or non-serious offenders are removed from the U.S.?
Immigration Politics As Usual
The reasons for the public’s confusion goes deeper than policy conflicts.
The incompatibility of the administration’s immigration policies is related to the 2012 election.
The conflicts among the various policies reflect reflect the president’s deliberate effort to avoid transparency on immigration issues.
In an effort to appear a centrist, the president introduced the concept of deportation quotas a few years ago.
To meet these quotas, immigration law enforcement agencies have aggressively pursued higher deportation numbers than under his predecessors.
At the same time, to appease immigration reform supporters, the president has floated the idea of immigration court review panels. These panels, yet to be officially implemented, are intended to defuse the criticism that too many immigrant families are being destroyed via the deportation process.
The president should know better. It’s impossible to have it both ways.
Listening to the president on immigration, Mark Twain would likely note, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and deportation statistics.”
By Carlos Batara, Immigration Law, Policy, And Politics