April 8 (Bloomberg) -- Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants deported from the U.S. last year may have been eligible to begin the citizenship process under a Senate-passed bill that isn’t moving forward in the House.
Data from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement released to Bloomberg News adds to the pressure that President Barack Obama is facing from labor groups and Democrats in Congress, who want his administration to curtail deportations.
“These numbers provide the evidence that we’ve needed,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the Washington-based National Immigration Law Center, which supports easing U.S. immigration laws. “It shows that the people being deported under the Obama administration are the very same people this administration wants to provide a path to citizenship.”
About 76,200 immigrants, representing some 20 percent of all deportations from the U.S. last year, were expelled after being convicted of immigration-related crimes or traffic offenses, the immigration and customs data show. Those infractions generally wouldn’t block citizenship under the Senate measure.
Obama’s administration deported an average of about 1,000 immigrants a day last year, more than under any other president.
The president has emphasized record deportations to show he’s tough on immigration enforcement. Some fellow Democrats have pushed back, saying Obama should halt deportations of those who have committed minor infractions or immigration-related offenses, such as being caught multiple times crossing the border.
House Republicans, who haven’t acted on broad immigration-law revisions, say executive action curbing deportations would jeopardize legislation sought by such companies as Microsoft Corp. and Caterpillar Inc., which would include an expansion of worker visas. The current quota on visas for highly skilled workers was reached in one week, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced yesterday.
The Obama administration shifted priorities for immigration enforcement in 2011, putting the focus on those who pose threats to national security, public safety and border security. That was a departure from policies under President George W. Bush, which emphasized raids on businesses suspected of hiring undocumented immigrants.
The shift has made a difference: More than 216,800 immigrants were convicted of a crime before being deported in 2013, compared with 132,500 in 2008, according to ICE data. About half of that increase was from a 185 percent rise in undocumented immigrants convicted of immigration-related crimes.
The new data show many immigrants are being deported for misdemeanor crimes or offenses that wouldn’t bar citizenship under the Senate bill. Of 368,600 deportations last year, about 63,800 were for immigration-related crimes, while 12,400 were for traffic offenses, ICE data show.
Asked about a New York Times story yesterday that two-thirds of almost 2 million deportation cases since Obama took office involve people who had committed minor infractions or had no criminal record, White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters that 98 percent of deportations last year met the administration’s enforcement priorities. Carney said Obama has ordered a review of the U.S. deportation system to find ways to “more humanely” enforce the laws.
“The president has made clear, he remains deeply concerned about the pain too many families feel from the separation that comes from our broken immigration system,” Carney said yesterday.
Under the bill the Senate passed 68-32 last June -- with support from 14 Republicans -- undocumented immigrants generally would be eligible for citizenship if they were in the U.S. before Jan. 1, 2012, and weren’t convicted of a felony or more than two misdemeanors.
Immigration-related crimes wouldn’t count toward that total, said Marc Rosenblum, deputy director of the U.S. immigration policy program for the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute.
Obama eased deportations before his re-election in 2012, exempting some undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children. Senate staff told White House officials at a meeting last month that Obama could also stop deporting parents of U.S. citizens and others who would be protected under the Senate bill.
Some advocates say changes in deportation policy could help Obama gain favor with Hispanic voters heading into the 2014 election that will determine control of Congress for his final two years in office.
Obama’s approval rating among Hispanics has dropped 18 points since last May to 57 percent, according to Gallup polling. He won 71 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2012, exit polls showed.
“The administration has been throwing sand in our face,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, a Washington-based group that supports easing immigration laws. “There couldn’t be anything more callous and heartless than deporting people who would be eligible for relief under legislation you’re fighting for.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Michael C. Bender in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jodi Schneider at email@example.com Mark McQuillan