Deportations on the rise under Obama

A common placard on the Washington Mall during the mass immigration rally called for "No Deportation." The demand was categorical. No exceptions for the criminal, for the terrorists, for the scofflaws. Simply no deportations. Why?

The demand to deport criminals seems acceptable. Surely dangerous undocumented immigrants should be excluded from the country. President Barack Obama promised that the weapon of deportation would be used against the "violently criminal" – the Santuches gangs of Los Angeles. He would make that Immigration and Custom Enforcement's priority. Indeed, there have been greater efforts and results by ICE to round up criminals for deportation. There have been fewer factory raids – though they still happen. Now ICE will also be going after the unscrupulous and exploiting employers of the undocumented.

But the signs on the Mall didn't come from nowhere. They came because of growing frustration that there have been substantially more deportations and detentions under Obama than under Bush in his last years. And most of them are not from the "criminal element." The rationale of the Obama administration is that it must look tough on illegal entry if it is to get immigration reform – especially a path to citizenship.

Not only have there been more detentions and deportations, but they have been as faster than under Bush. They continue as deportees have no lawyers – an estimated 87 percent in Texas don't have lawyers. They happen as the immigration courts decline into chaos. ICE moves detainees around the country in search of the most favorable venue for a deportation order. The detention centers are overcrowded and in inhumane condition. Even the mentally ill and disable are given short shrift.

The New York Times tells of a legal immigrant accused of trespass, yet declare incompetent to stand trial. He was sent to a mental institution for 90 days, yet ICE interceded and sent him instead to detention in Texas. There he received no medication. His family and lawyer had no idea of where he was and feared that if he were deported to the Dominican Republic he would end up in the streets. His story was part of an 88 page report on treatment of the mentally ill in Texas detention centers. The LA Times reports that California doesn't seem to treat the mentally ill any better.

Out of frustration many see the condition of the detainee and the deportee as worsening under Barack Obama.

Is this deliberate? A Washington Post article exposed a government memo that hints, at least some in the Obama administration, it is indeed. James M. Chaparro, head of detention and deportations at ICE, sent a memo complimenting his personnel on stepped-up detentions and deportations of the "criminal element" but also noting that there ought to be greater effort to meet a quota of 400,000 annual deportation.

Democrats had railed against Bush's Homeland Security for setting quota for detentions in the San Bernardino ICE office and its numerous factory raids. Obama and his newly appointed ICE chief, John T. Morton, assured the Hispanic electorate – that went overwhelmingly for Obama – that there would be a new day without no quotas or factory raids. The raids have declined, though they haven't disappeared. The Chaparro memo indicates a quota. Morton, however, claims to know nothing of quotas and the offending memo.

Recent revelations seem to indicate that the Obama administration doesn't have a handle on the enforcement issue yet. Even the "success" in rooting out the criminal element came by stretching what Congress and the administration took to be the criminal element.

The NY Times has a story of a Haitian young man who is here legally, but pleaded guilty in a court case to having one marijuana joint. That wouldn't have been enough to detain him for deportation, but he had been caught at 18 with a little marijuana, though there was no conviction then. There are also humanitarian grounds to release him. Still ICE swooped down on him, detained him and sent him off to Texas.

Going to Texas is not a pleasant thing for a detainee. The young Haitian suffered discrimination and ill treatment from guards and other detainees, had to hide in solitary for his own safety. His only blessing was having a lawyer to plead his case. At most deportation hearings in Texas the detainees have no legal representation.

Part of the problem is that immigration law is enforced differently in different parts of the country. Texas falls under the Fifth Circuit of the Federal Court of Appeals – often cited for its lack of wisdom and compassion. There two minor drug convictions equal a felony, which merits deportation. Not so in 10 other regions of the federal court system. Also extenuating circumstances are not considered. Things would have been different in New York or California for the young Haitian. The Supreme Court is hearing a case today that touches on this issue of the diversity between federal regions on immigration enforcement. The young man is currently out of detention but still faces deportation.