The federal government has deported more illegal immigrants from the U.S. than ever before, the director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said Thursday as part of an effort to push back on the suggestion Washington isn’t doing enough.
“For those who doubt the federal government’s resolve in the enforcement of immigration law, let me say this: We are committed to strong, effective immigration enforcement, and the facts speak for themselves,” ICE Director John Morton said.
He said his agency removed a record 380,000 illegal immigrants from the U.S. last fiscal year, and about a third of them were convicted criminals. So far this fiscal year, ICE removed 136,000 illegal immigrants who are convicted criminals, also a record, Morton said.
“Is there more work to be done? Absolutely. Is the problem a significant one, a challenging one for the nation? Absolutely,” he said. But “we’re in this for the long haul. … We’re going to get this right.”
Border staffing also is at an all-time high, and will only increase under a $600 million plan by President Barack Obama to put more agents and equipment along the Mexican border, Morton said.
The measure, which Obama planned to sign into law Friday, would fund the hiring of 1,000 new Border Patrol agents to be deployed at critical areas along the border, 250 more Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, and 250 more Customs and Border Protection officers.
From politicians to average residents, many in Arizona and elsewhere say the federal government isn’t doing its job despite the increased efforts and deportations.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer cited government inaction as a reason for signing the state’s new immigration law, which reignited that national illegal immigration debate, caused the governor’s popularity to soar in the state and turned her into a national figure.
The law went into effect July 29 after a judge ruled to block its most controversial sections, including a part that required officers to check a person’s immigration status while enforcing other laws. Brewer is appealing the decision and says she’ll take it all the way to the Supreme Court.
Morton spoke specifically about ICE’s efforts in Arizona, and said that during an average week, his agency removes 1,500 illegal immigrants from the state, arrests five human smugglers, investigates three drop houses, inspects the employment records of 526 people working for state companies and seizes a ton of marijuana.
As for Arizona’s new law, Morton said ICE already works with state and local agencies to fight illegal immigration, and that “we don’t think that 50 different immigration enforcement regimes is the answer.”
The answer is uniform federal immigration reform, he said.
“You’ve got to have comprehensive reform that recognizes a need for strong border security, a need for strong interior enforcement, but also a means for families and workers to come here lawfully … and an ability for people who’ve been here for a very long time to get right with the law by paying a fine and learning English and paying their taxes, and getting to the back of the line,” Morton said.
As part of his visit, Morton also announced the results of a three-day statewide operation he said was the largest of its kind in Arizona. The operation, which ended Wednesday evening, netted the arrests of 63 illegal immigrants who are convicted criminals and immigrants with outstanding orders of deportation who failed to leave the country.
At least 25 already had been removed from the United States before. A conviction of felony re-entry into the U.S. carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison.