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Kyung Jin Lee/MEDILL

Source: Office of Immigration Statistics/Department of Homeland's 2008 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics

U.S. deportations double over 10 years

by Kyung Jin Lee
Feb 23, 2010


Kyung Jin Lee/MEDILL

Source: Office of Immigration Statistics/Department of Homeland's 2008 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics


Kyung Jin Lee/MEDILL

Source: Office of Immigration Statistics/Department of Homeland's 2008 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics


Kyung Jin Lee/MEDILL

Source: Department of Homeland's Budget in Brief reports.

The United States almost doubled the deportation rate of foreign nationals over a 10-year span, according to the Department of Homeland Security’s statistical yearbook. 

Chicago immigration attorney Salvador Cicero said in recent years he has seen a greater number of immigrants stopped by local police for frivolous reasons, like obstruction of view in a car because of a crucifix hanging on the rearview mirror. 

“And through this mechanism [the police] would stop people, and many times they would illegally search [immigrants’] cars and thereafter ask them for their legal status and detain them,” Cicero said. “And then they would end up in immigration custody.” 

In 2008, the last year for which Homeland Security has released figures, more than 90 percent of the almost 359,000 total deportees were sent to either North or Central America. 

Mexican nationals have had the highest rate of removals throughout the decade, making up more than 80 percent of total deportations in 1999. However, this share dropped to about 70 percent in 2008, with other nationalities making up more of the total. 

Other countries that led in receiving U.S. deportees throughout the past decade include: Honduras, Guatemala, Dominican Republic and Colombia. In 2008, U.S. sent 17 percent of all deportees to Honduras, more than an eight-fold increase since 1999. Comparatively, the percentage of deportations to Guatemala increased 300 percent during the same time period whereas forced repatriation to Colombia and Dominican Republic dropped by half. 

Cicero pointed out that a 2008 immigration raid in Postville, Iowa, resulted in the arrest of about 400 migrant workers, most of whom were Guatemalan. He speculated immigration officials might have chosen the site because Guatemalans are not as savvy as Mexicans on how to deal with the immigration system. 

The Mexican government has been spending a lot of resources disseminating information on the rights of their citizens for many years, Cicero said. 

“That has a direct effect on why people might choose voluntary departure versus fighting deportation,” he said. 

Gail Montenegro, spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Chicago, said her agency does not target potential deportees by nationality. 

“We target by evidence and intelligence, based on long-term criminal investigations,” Montenegro said. She said ICE has initiatives to target criminal immigrants, including street gangs. 

Among deported immigrants in 2008, almost one-third of the cases were due to criminal activity. “The most common categories of crime committed by aliens removed … included illegal drug activity, immigration violation and assault,” according to an annual report issued by the Office of Immigration Statistics. These activities accounted for almost two-thirds of all deportations based on criminal charges. 

For the two-thirds of immigrants deported without having committed a crime, Anita Maddali, staff attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund in Chicago, said there are numerous ways undocumented immigrants could get deported.  

“For instance, if somebody goes through asylum proceedings, loses their asylum case and loses the appeal, then they would be deported back to their home countries,” Maddali said. Other noncriminal ways immigrants can get deported include: workplace raids, applying for and being denied certain immigration benefits, and/or air travel, where they are subject to identification verification. 

Brazil and Jamaica both appear on the top-10 list of deportees nine years out of 10, while Canada and Ecuador appear seven times. Nicaragua, Haiti and Peru have also made occasional showings. In 2004, China ranked No. 10, making it the only country from neither North nor South America to make the list. These eight countries have small numbers and combined make up less than three percent of the total. 

The combined budgets of the agencies charged with enforcing deportations have risen substantially over a seven-year span, according to the Department of Homeland Security’s Budget-in-Brief reports. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection budgets nearly doubled to almost $14.5 billion from $7.5 billion between 2002 and 2008. 

Despite their efforts, the number of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. has not declined over the past 10 years. The Department of Homeland Security and the Pew Hispanic Center estimate this segment of society has increased by more than 3 million since 2000.