SEATTLE – Deportations from Washington, Oregon and Alaska jumped nearly 10 percent from a year ago, according to new figures from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Illegal immigrants with criminal records comprised 60 percent of the total – a significant jump from recent years when that figure hovered around 40 percent. ICE attributed the jump to its emphasis on deporting those with records.
For the first nine months of the federal fiscal year – October through June – more than 8,000 deportations originated from the Pacific Northwest, compared to 7,345 in the same period last year.
The new figures were a mixed bag for Pramila Jayapal, executive director of OneAmerica, a Seattle-based immigrant advocate group.
She said she has been encouraged by the actions of the Obama administration but would like to see more accountability from ICE, such as breaking down the types of crimes that prompted deportations.
“I’m very troubled; it is really important to distinguish who these criminal immigrants are … distinguishing violent criminals from people who get picked up for misdemeanors,” Jayapal said.
ICE does not release breakdowns of the crimes involved in deportations.
Meanwhile, proponents of stricter immigration rules said focusing on just those with criminal records is an incomplete approach.
The immigration issue has taken new spins as the Obama administration introduces new policies on enforcement, and Congress wrestles with writing a comprehensive immigration bill.
A work-site raid in Bellingham in February became a national issue after Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano ordered a review of the operation.
It was the first raid of the Obama administration, which had signaled that it wanted to move away from raids to focus on scrutinizing employers who hire illegal workers.
Earlier this month, Homeland Security released a list of 652 businesses nationwide that will receive audits of their work force – 26 are in the Pacific Northwest.
Neil Clark, field office director for ICE detention and removal operations in Seattle, said the agency will soon launch a program in the region called “Secure Communities” that works with local police to identify illegal immigrants with criminal records using fingerprint technology.
ICE has already opened a 24-hour command center in Washington where local law enforcement can check a person’s background.
Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a Washington, D.C., group that lobbies for stricter immigration rules, said focusing on people with criminal records does not serve as a deterrent to others who want to come to this country illegally.
“The administration is sending a signal: If you’re not a serious criminal we’re not going to be looking for you,” Mehlman said.
Mehlman said he believes enforcement efforts also should include employers who hire undocumented workers and work-site raids and other tactics to remove incentives for people to migrate to the United States.
“Deportation is a legitimate component (of immigration reform), but we’re not going to solve this problem through deportation alone,” he said.