Immigration Reform 2013: Is the Obama Administration Really Only Deporting Criminals?

Since President Obama’s re-election, there have been high hopes that his administration would follow through with the promise to issue comprehensive immigration legislation that would finally reduce the number of deportations in the United States. During Obama’s first presidential term, the United States had a high number of deportations, causing immigration advocates to question his view on immigration. The Immigration and Custom Enforcement Agency (ICE) deported 409,849 immigrants in the 2012 fiscal year alone.

In fact, Obama's recent moves with deportation suggest that real reform may still be a long way off.

Recently, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) under Obama’s administration declared that most of the immigrants detained in detention centers or deported from the United States are criminals. In reality, only 55% of immigrants deported or detained in detention centers could be considered criminals. This number includes immigrants charged with petty non-violent crimes.

Most immigrants deported from the United States are members of their communities who work to provide for themselves and their families. In a political atmosphere filled with anxiety to achieve immigration reform that will reduce border violence, the bipartisan effort needs to look at this issue from the migrant and their family’s perspective.

On December 21, 2012, ICE declared they will no longer be detaining individuals who have been convicted of minor non-violent offenses to ensure resources are dedicated to ICE priorities which include those charged with felonies. Furthermore, a part of Obama’s immigration reform includes only detaining those with a criminal record. What is left unanswered is how will the DHS legitimize what is considered to be criminal and non-criminal in the context of human rights.

With Secure Communities still a major part of border security, we see ICE officials looking for undocumented persons in detention centers. This is happening in a society that criminalizes communities of color by privatizing immigrant detention centers, privatizing prisons and criminalizing petty behavior.

Is this the comprehensive immigration reform we were looking for?