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Deportations Are Up, But Is Anyone Applauding?

Above: Since they were deported, 21-year-old Jose Contreras, right, and a 24-year-old man named Alejandro, spend much of their time on the on the banks of the Tijuana trying to figure out how to get back into the U.S.

Aired 9/14/12 on KPBS News.

The Department of Homeland Security has released new deportation statistics, and they show the number of immigrants being removed from the U.S. reaching all-time highs. Or do they?

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Immigration Enforcement Actions: 2011

Immigration Enforcement Actions: 2011

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— Every year, the Department of Homeland Security releases statistics showing how many deportations its enforcement agencies -– Immigration and Customs, the Border Patrol -- have carried out in the previous year.

This year’s shows DHS removed 392,000 people from the country in 2011, just below the all-time record in 2009.

Which sounds like an enforcement advocate’s dream.

And yet, Texas Congressman Lamar Smith, a staunch immigration enforcement advocate, took the report as an opportunity to lambast the Obama administration, accusing it of “falsify[ing] their record to achieve their so-called historic deportation numbers.”

He said the administration had cooked the books, making it look like they “removed” all those people, when in fact tens of thousands of them had actually just been “returned.”

Wait, what?

To clear this up, I called up Ben Winograd, a staff attorney at the American Immigration Council, who pores over these statistics.

He explained that in deportation-speak, the government generally uses two terms to refer to how it boots someone out of the country.

“When the government refers to a removal, they are referring to the forced departure of an immigrant based on an order of removal,” from an immigration officer or judge, Winograd said.

“When the government, by contrast, refers to a return, they’re referring to an immigrant who legally could have been subject to an order of deportation, but was allowed to return voluntarily,” he said.

Generally, people removed from the interior of the country, either through directed enforcement operations, workplace raids, or from jails, are “removed,” whereas migrants caught trying to cross the border are generally “returned.”

These distinctions are important, because a removal can come with a harsher reentry penalty that makes it much harder to get back into the U.S. legally.

Congressman Smith’s gripe is that of those more than 390,000 people DHS says it removed, some 30,000 were actually just deported through a special program that returns them to their home countries without that harsh reentry penalty. In other words, they were technically returned, not removed.

Nonetheless, this year’s report shows one of the largest numbers of ‘removals’ in history, and not only that. It shows the lowest number of ‘returns’ since 1970 (only 324,000, compared to about 584,000 in 2009), meaning, in essence, that fewer people are being caught crossing the border.

And yet, despite that, neither the left nor the right seem to be celebrating.

“It’s kind of the thing that neither party likes to mention,” Winograd said. “Republicans don’t want to mention it because it makes Obama look good on immigration enforcement. And Democrats don’t want to mention it because it makes Obama look bad on immigration enforcement.”

However you interpret these numbers, what is clear is that more and more of them are ending up at places like the channelized banks of the Tijuana River, steps from the fence that separates Tijuana from San Diego.

It’s where a lot of deported migrants who have no money and nowhere to go languish until they can either figure out how to get back to their hometowns, or back across the border.

It’s where I met Jose Contreras, a 21-year-old who came to the U.S. three years ago to work in construction, and was deported two months ago.

“I was working and, unfortunately, immigration passed by, asked for my documents, and deported me,” he said.

Contreras spends a lot of his time at the river, in the shade of a pedestrian bridge that connects visitors from San Diego to downtown Tijuana’s principal tourist avenue. It’s just steps from the border fence, and it’s where he tries to figure out how to get back across.

“I don’t want to go home because I haven’t finished what I started, but now I try to cross, and it’s harder,” Contreras said. “It’s harder because they have technology, and there are risks.”

But he said he would keep trying, as many times as he had to, no matter how often he got deported, until he could get back to his job. In other words, he’s willing to keep driving those DHS statistics up.

Comments

Avatar image for user 'HarryStreet'

HarryStreet | September 13, 2012 at 5:18 p.m. ― 1 year, 7 months ago

I don't believe any of us can blame people for making their way to the U.S. We're not perfect, but compared to Third World countries it's a sight better to be here than there.
That said, I don't believe turning a blind eye is the answer. Yes, our Visa and Citizenship departments need to be easier for people to obtain, but let's also face the fact there is only so much lattitude here. Third World governments are going to have to own up to their responsibility by changing how they govern in order to provide their citizens opportunities so they aren't compelled to leave in search of a better life. In many Third World countries they have class-societies that don't allow people the opportunity to lift themselves out of poverty.
I've seen multiple families living in single-dwelling homes where crime rises, neighborhood quality of life diminishes. For every success story we read, there is also a negative.

If we continue to ignore the importance of controlling our borders the overpopulated neighborhoods will continue to grow.

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Avatar image for user 'jskdn'

jskdn | September 14, 2012 at 9:42 a.m. ― 1 year, 7 months ago

“The statistics are actually a little deceptive because what we’ve been doing is, with the stronger border enforcement, we’ve been apprehending folks at the borders and sending them back. That is counted as a deportation, even though they may have only been held for a day or 48 hours, sent back — that’s counted as a deportation,”

That was said by Obama to Hispanic Journalists.
http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2011/oct/5/napolitano-us-will-set-record-deportations-2011/

But on the assumption that the statistic was real:

"Democrats don’t want to mention it because it makes Obama look bad on immigration enforcement.”

Because enforcing immigration law is bad to Democrats.

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Avatar image for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | September 14, 2012 at 11:32 a.m. ― 1 year, 7 months ago

@JSKDN Washington Times!!! LOL LOL LOL

I remember when the blanking Moonies came to my house in the 80s. They had a pamphet with a cartoon on the cover showing a Russian soldier climbing up Central America!!! LOL LOL LOL

Rot in Hades Moon!

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Avatar image for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | September 14, 2012 at 11:37 a.m. ― 1 year, 7 months ago

JSKDN,

you omitted the first part of the quote:

“Republicans don’t want to mention it because it makes Obama look good on immigration enforcement . . . "

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Avatar image for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | September 14, 2012 at 11:43 a.m. ― 1 year, 7 months ago

Obama could shoot a "messican" himself and the Nativists would still not be happy!

Pragmatic pro-business Republicans need to reign in their Right wing.

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Avatar image for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | September 14, 2012 at 11:44 a.m. ― 1 year, 7 months ago

ON THE OTHER hand, I would also ask young Contreras just how much schooling he completed in Mexico.

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Avatar image for user 'jskdn'

jskdn | September 14, 2012 at 12:14 p.m. ― 1 year, 7 months ago

That's typical of the type of attack on the source of any information that might disagree with the pro-illegal immigration agenda. It's a quote from Obama. Unless it's out of context, we should take it at face value, which has the president essentially agreeing with the Republican cited in the article critics about what the administration is doing in order to assuage those who believe that enforcing immigration law is bad: Hispanic Journalists.

But on the assumption that people would believe that the statistic was real:

“Republicans don’t want to mention it because it makes Obama look good on immigration enforcement . . . "

Because enforcing immigration law is good to Republicans, or at least those who might vote for them based upon the belief that they will enforce the law, which is questionable.

The greedy, pro-illegal immigration for profit Republicans need to have their money taken away through massive taxation for promoting the demographics of illegal immigration that will result in future Republicans having their money taken away.

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