The number of illegal immigrants deported for commiting traffic violations was the highest last fiscal year than at any time in the past 11 years, national figures show.
Some 44,000 people were deported from the United States after being convicted of traffic offenses during the first 10 1/2 months of fiscal year 2011, according to partial figures from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
From 2001 to 2006, there were 4,000 to 6,200 deportations a year from traffic offenses. In 2007, the total passed 10,000, marking the beginning of a gradual climb over the next five years.
Not only have the yearly totals increased, the traffic-offense category now represents a larger portion of the total deportation of "criminal" illegal immigrants. That's defined by ICE as people who have been convicted of felony and misdemeanor crimes. Noncriminal illegal immigrants are people deported for immigration violations only.
The deportations from traffic offenses registered from Oct. 1, 2010, to Aug. 15, 2011, accounted for 26 percent of the criminal removals through these dates. That's up from 6 percent to 7 percent each year from 2001 to 2006.
The numerical breakdown of crimes committed by people in the "criminal" category is not yet available for the full fiscal 2011, which ended on Sept. 30, but the partial figures show that more people were deported following traffic violations than any other crime.
That includes dangerous drug convictions, a category that led the list every year from 2001 to 2010. Misdemeanor or felony immigration offenses ranked third on the list. Re-entering the United States after deportation can be a felony.
Among traffic offenses, the most common conviction leading to deportation was driving under the influence of alcohol, which led to 28,214 deportations through the first 10 1/2 months of the fiscal year.
The second-most common traffic offense is the catch-all category of "other traffic offenses," which includes any traffic violation that doesn't fit into the four categories broken out by ICE: hit and run; transporting dangerous material; driving under the influence of drugs; and driving under the influence of liquor. Those offenses can include speeding, reckless driving, driving without a taillight or driving without a license, said ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice. There were 14,331 deportation stemming from this category in the partial 2011 data.
The other three traffic categories account for only a few deportations:
• Hit and run: 1,072
• Driving under influence of drugs: 515
• Transporting dangerous material: 4
Criminal deportations accounted for nearly 55 percent of all deportations nationwide - a 10-year high, fiscal-year figures show. The 396,906 total deportations set a record for the 10th straight year.
The Obama administration came under fire from both sides of the immigration debate when it announced the figures earlier this month.
Republican border-security proponents and critics of the administration's immigration enforcement strategy said the deportation numbers were inflated because they include people who voluntarily leave with no penalties and may be able to cross back into the country illegally.
Immigrant-rights groups said the government is unfairly targeting illegal immigrants who are not a threat to society, separating families and creating fear in immigrant communities.
On StarNet: Read more about border-related issues in Brady McCombs' blog, Border Boletín, at azstarnet.com/borderboletin
Contact reporter Brady McCombs at 573-4213 or email@example.com