A cop pulls over a driver for exceeding the speed limit on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. Paying that fine may be a nuisance, but for immigrants, that ticket just made them “convicted criminals” by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency standards.
A new Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) report out Tuesday found that since 2008, the most serious criminal charge for half of those deported was for an immigration or traffic violation. Former President George W. Bush (R) launched the federal Secure Communities program in 2008, in which local law enforcement agencies share fingerprint records with ICE.
“There has been an absolute decline in the number of noncitizens removed who have been convicted of any crime apart from traffic and immigration,” the TRAC report stated. In fact, the “two large categories that ICE has classified as convicted criminals” were those with a traffic violation (up 191 percent) and individuals convicted of immigration offenses (up 167 percent).
The report also found that in the 2013 fiscal year alone, half of all deportees were charged for an immigration or traffic violation. Only 12 percent of the total population had committed the most serious “Level 1” offense. Illegal entry, considered a petty misdemeanor, was the most serious offense for about 23 percent of immigrants charged with a conviction. And between 2008 and 2013, the number of deportees convicted for vehicle theft was down 27 percent and robbery, burglary, and forgery was up four to six percent.
“ICE currently uses an exceedingly broad definition of criminal behavior” that includes even minor infractions. The report explained, “If the same definitions were applied to every citizen — rather than just to noncitizens — available evidence suggests that the majority of U.S. citizens would be considered convicted criminals.”
The finding is just the latest criticism lobbed against an administration that has gone on the record stating that it will focus its resources on national safety threats like “criminals, gang bangers, people who are hurting the community.”
In just the past two weeks, at least two other reports drew similar conclusions that the Obama administration has been deporting thousands of immigrants who have not committed serious offenses. A New York Times analysis found that only 20 percent of the two million deportation cases involved people “convicted of serious crimes, including drug-related offenses.” ICE data released to Bloomberg News provided evidence that about 76,200 immigrants who were convicted of immigration-related crimes or traffic offenses last year would have qualified under the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill had it been passed into law.
Legislation limiting deportation proceedings seems promising in some places however. An Associated Press analysis out Monday found that California’s TRUST Act, which limits the ability of state and local law enforcement officials to hold immigrants who have committed minor crimes for pick up by federal immigration agents, actually worked as intended. In the first two months of 2014, state and local law enforcement officials in California turned over fewer immigrants to federal immigration authorities. Under the Trust Act, the AP found that at least 15 of the 23 counties “responsible for most of California’s deportations” reduced the number of people held for deportations by 44 percent — from 2,984 immigrants down to 1,660.