WASHINGTON – Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Wednesday that immigration officials expect another record-breaking number of deportations when the final numbers for fiscal 2011 are tallied.
In a speech at American University, Napolitano predicted that “removals will again be at historic levels” for the fiscal year, which ended Friday.
She credits it to the success of Secure Communities, a program that partners federal immigration officials with local law enforcement.
“Despite the misleading commentary about this program, it has proven to be the single best tool at focusing our immigration enforcement resources on criminals and egregious immigration law violators,” Napolitano said.
The program has led to the removal of 134,378 immigrants from its inception in 2008 through August of this year. Of those, 17,141 have come from Arizona, where Pinal County was the first in the state to join, in 2008.
States in the program collect fingerprints from suspects and turn them over to Immigration and Custom Enforcement. ICE then determines the suspect’s immigration status and takes action accordingly.
Some states that were initially on board with the program, such as Illinois, have tried to get out of the partnership, which some governors have said goes after low-level offenders instead of higher-level criminals. But DHS has refused to release any states from the program.
“To be perfectly candid, this program got off to a bad start,” Napolitano said. “We did not explain clearly how it works and who is required to participate.”
In response to charges that it is dealing with too many low-level offenders, the Obama administration has said it will use prosecutorial discretion when pursuing cases, to make sure the government is only going after high-level criminals.
“It makes sense to prioritize our finite resources on removing a Mexican citizen who is wanted for murder in his home country ahead of a Mexican national who is the sole provider for his American-citizen spouse,” Napolitano said.
The secretary said there needs to be “legislative solutions to address” more fully the issue of illegal immigration.
Ezequiel Hernandez, a Phoenix-based immigration lawyer, agreed that the problem of illegal immigration cannot be solved with programs such as Secure Communities alone. Congress needs to get immigration reform passed, he said.
Hernandez said there would not be a problem with Secure Communities if it was implemented correctly.
“But it is being abused by ICE and states because they are detaining undocumented people with no crimes,” he said.
Hernandez also said that the federal government is contradicting itself by trying to appease both immigration-enforcement advocates and pro-immigrant advocates.
Carolyn Brown, an American University journalism professor who produced a documentary about the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps on the Arizona-Mexico border, agrees that the Obama administration is trying to do both.
“He’s trying to appeal to people who want to crack down on immigration, but he’s also trying … to appeal to immigration-rights activist,” said Brown, who was at Napolitano’s speech. “I’m not sure he’s succeeding in either.”