Nearly 80 percent of Arizona deportations last fiscal year came from people caught at the border — higher than the 64 percent nationwide, data from Immigration and Customs Enforcement show.
While the number of people being deported after being picked up by ICE inside the country is falling, the share of those caught at the border and formally removed continues to rise.
The Washington, D.C.-based Migration Policy Institute attributes the rise to sweeping legislation in 1996 that led to quicker and more formal deportations, more resources and policy changes that represent a new historical reality where more than 400,000 people can get removed in a year.
While the Obama administration is getting close to deporting 2 million people, agents use prosecutorial discretion to prioritize who gets removed.
Immigration authorities in Arizona declined to show up 13 percent of the time that a Department of Public Safety officer called regarding someone they suspected was in the country illegally. They most often cited a manpower shortage, a child in the vehicle or the absence of a criminal record for declining such a call. The DPS data were reviewed by the Arizona Daily Star as part of an investigation of the state’s immigration law, SB 1070.
What this shows is a dichotomy of a system at the border where there’s a near zero tolerance, with immigrants increasingly subject to formal removal and criminal charges, and greater flexibility with priorities in the interior, said a Migration Policy Institute report about deportations released Tuesday.
Before 1996, the majority of people deported from the United States were simply sent back to Mexico in what was called a “catch-and-release” policy. “People were sometimes arrested three, four, five times in a single day with no repercussions,” said George Allen, assistant chief patrol agent for the Tucson Sector.
“As we progressed, especially post-9/11,” he said, there was a push to document all those who were arrested and fully process them.
Today, voluntary return is the exception, he said, and normally involves juveniles or people who have a humanitarian need.
Nationwide, 75 percent of people caught by Customs and Border Protection go through what’s called expedited removal — a process used for those who recently crossed and are caught within 100 miles of the border — or a reinstatement of removal, when their previous deportation order is reapplied. Neither of these two groups go before an immigration judge.
More people getting formal deportations has also led to more people being charged criminally for immigration violations, meaning they can become convicted criminals and fall under one of the agency’s priorities, which also include recent border crossers and repeat immigration violators.
About 21 percent of criminal immigrants deported in the fiscal years 2009 through 2012 had been convicted exclusively of immigration-related crimes, the Migration Policy Institute reported. And about 23 percent of non-immigration crimes have consisted of minor nonviolent offenses.
In March, President Obama announced a review of the Department of Homeland Security’s deportation policy to make deportations more humane amid growing criticism from immigrant advocates.
The report says including enforcement changes along the border — and not just in the interior of the country — would have a larger impact, but it noted it’s the hardest place to do so. That’s because of how CBP and ICE work there and of how the border is viewed politically as opposed to enforcement deeper into the United States.
The real solution, though, the authors concluded, is a rationalized, updated immigration law.