ICE sets record for deporting illegal immigrants

Immigration and Customs Enforcement removed a record 392,000 illegal immigrants from the country in fiscal 2010 -- more than 195,000 of whom were convicted criminals. In 2008, the last year of the Bush administration, 369,000 illegal aliens were deported, and 114,000 of them were criminals, Obama administration officials said on Wednesday.

Also, officials said ICE audited more than 3,200 employers suspected of hiring undocumented immigrants, debarred 225 companies from receiving federal contracts and imposed $50 million in financial sanctions since January 2009 -- more than the total number of audits and debarments from 2000 through 2008, said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano at a briefing for reporters at DHS headquarters.

The data show the Obama administration has increased enforcement of immigration laws significantly, Napolitano said. She urged members of Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform that creates a legal pathway to citizenship for some of the millions of noncriminal immigrants now in the country. Republicans and some Democrats have said they will not tackle immigration reform until the administration tightens enforcement and secures U.S. borders, especially the Southwest border with Mexico.

"This administration takes very seriously its responsibility to secure the border," Napolitano said.

She attributed the enforcement success to the expansion of a controversial program known as the Secure Communities initiative, which uses biometric information to identify and deport criminal aliens in state prisons and local jails.

In 2008, 14 jurisdictions participated in the program, compared to 660 today, including all those along the Southwest border. DHS wants to expand the program to all law enforcement jurisdictions by 2013. According to Napolitano, 59,000 convicted criminals were arrested in 2010 through the program, including more than 21,000 who were convicted of major violent crimes, such as murder, rape and child sexual assault.

Sunita Patel, an attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights, an immigrant rights advocacy organization, said most of the immigrants picked up through the Secure Communities program are not criminal offenders and the program results in racial profiling.

"Police departments, local leaders and community members have been working hard to opt-out of Secure Communities, a dangerous ICE initiative that makes it hard for law enforcement to do their job and for individuals and families to be safe," Patel said.

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