The newly released data showed that in 2013 close to 35,000 people were deported by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s operations in the state, Arizona Republic reports.
The decrease comes as President Barrack Obama has been under growing pressure from immigration advocates and some members of Congress to ease up on record deportations. Nationally, the country saw a 10 percent decrease from the previous year and the first time deportations dropped since Obama took office in 2009.
ICE officials say one of the reasons the agency deported fewer people in 2013 is that the agency is focusing more attention on catching and removing serious criminals, whose cases take more time.
An increase in the percentage of Central Americans being apprehended at the border after crossing illegally also has reduced overall deportation numbers because they take more time to deport than Mexicans, ICE officials said.
But ICE officials emphasized that 98 percent of the 368,644 people deported last fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, fit into the agency’s priorities of removing criminals, recent border crossers and repeat immigration violators.
“These results clearly demonstrate that ICE is enforcing our nation’s laws in a smart and effective way,” acting ICE Director John Sandweg said in a recent conference call with reporters.
Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington, D.C., think tank that favors more strict immigration enforcement, challenged Sandweg’s claim that deportations are down because it takes longer to deport criminals.
She said the main reason deportations decreased last year is because, under the Obama administration, ICE has chosen to deport fewer overall people.
“Criminals don’t necessarily take longer,” Vaughan said. “In many cases, they are quicker” because, in many cases, they are already detained and so don’t have to be tracked down.
Earlier this month, at least 28 Democratic House members, including U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, signed a letter asking Obama to stop deporting people who might qualify for legal status and citizenship should an immigration overhaul pass.