SEATTLE - The number of deportations of illegal immigrants from Washington, Oregon and Alaska dropped by nearly 9 percent during the last fiscal year, while deportations of immigrants considered convicted criminals were on the rise, according to new federal data.
It was the second consecutive year that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement showed overall removals of immigrants dropped in the Pacific Northwest, where 9,833 people were deported between Oct. 1, 2009, and Sept. 30.
By contrast, deportations had increased from more than 4,000 in 2005 to nearly 11,000 in 2008.
It's "evidence that we're meeting our stated goal," said Lorie Dankers, ICE spokeswoman for the Northwest. "Our stated focus is on convicted criminal aliens, that part of removals did have an increase. The fact that the overall numbers were down was not a huge concern."
Nationwide, the number of deportations again had risen, although the latest figures showed there was an increase of just more than one percent in the last year, with some 392,000 people removed from the country.
That figure falls just below the 400,000 goal ICE had set for itself. Still, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano called this past year "record-breaking." Deportations have nearly doubled since 2006.
In the Northwest, 48 percent of the immigrants removed were considered convicted criminals by the government. That share of deportations saw a marginal increase, while deportations of people with no criminal record dropped by more than 1,200 people.
Since 2007, deportations in the Northwest of immigrants with criminal records have doubled. Crimes under which a person may be deported can range between a misdemeanor and a felony. Also immigrants with permanent residencies or refugees can be face deportation if convicted of a crime.
Congress has pressured Homeland Security to emphasize deporting and removing people considered dangerous to communities or threats to the country.
ICE implements a couple of programs to target immigrants with criminal histories. The Criminal Alien Program sends agents to jails to look for inmates with questionable legal status.
ICE has also its Secure Communities program, which allows local officials to screen people being booked into jail for their immigration status and do an FBI criminal background check at the same time.
Secure Communities has not been implemented in Washington or Alaska, but it is up and running in four Oregon counties: Washington, Multnomah, Marion, and Clackamas.
David Ayala, organizing director for Seattle-based OneAmerica, said his organization has asked ICE for a breakdown of the types of crimes that have prompted deportations. He said they haven't received any data. He, like other immigrant advocates, suspects a large percentage of those deported are removed because of petty crimes.
An analysis of the use of Secure Communities in 16 states by the Center for Constitutional Rights showed that about 80 percent of the people deported were non-criminals or arrested for lower level offenses.
"It's not good for the overall perception," Ayala said. "Most (immigrants) are law-abiding people who contribute to the economy of this country."
For Craig Keller, a proponent of stricter immigration enforcement at the organization Respect WA, the new numbers show the Obama administration, like the Bush's, is not doing enough.
"I'm for the deportation of anyone who violates immigration law," Keller said, adding that illegal immigration supports a wide range of activity that breaks the law, such as forging social securities or other identification forms.