MIAMI — Samuel Soto, an undocumented Honduran, is free after having been detained for more than three months in a detention center for immigrants in Broward County. Yet, Soto is still in danger of being deported.
His freedom could be revoked any time and he could be placed on a plane to Honduras.
It will take a lot of time for my case to be resolved, Soto told El Nuevo Herald this week. But the important thing is that for now I am back with my family. It made me immensely happy when they released me.
Soto, 37, is one of hundreds of thousands of immigrants detained and deported every year by immigration authorities. The magnitude of the number of deportations was revealed recently in a report issued by the Department of Homeland Securitys office of immigration statistics.
According to the report, officials of various immigration agencies, including the Immigration and Customs Enforcement police, detained and deported an unprecedented number of undocumented immigrants during 2011 fiscal year.
Among the most important points in the report, titled Immigration Enforcement Actions: 2011, ICE detained a record 429,000 foreigners without documentation, and expelled about 188,000 immigrants with criminal records another unprecedented number.
The report confirms numbers available separately at the ICEs website, which shows that in 2011 the agency deported a record number of foreigners without documents: 396,906, most of them with criminal records.
According to the same ICE numbers, almost 2 million undocumented immigrants were deported between 2007 and last year. Initially, most of those deported were immigrants who simply did not have papers. Gradually, the priority shifted to immigrants with criminal records or who had been deported previously and had returned. In 2011, 55 percent of those deported had criminal records. On the other hand, the detentions of undocumented foreigners have not stopped, though the number of immigrants who simply have no papers seems to be diminishing.
The accelerated pace of detentions and deportations under the Obama administration has outraged immigration activists, even though ICE and DHS officials have tried to explain that now a great number of those detained and deported have criminal records or have been expelled from the country before.
Soto was in this last category.
He arrived in the United States originally in 1997 through the Mexican border, but he was detained by Border Patrol agents and returned to his country almost immediately.
That year, the number of detentions of illegal immigrants along the border was approximately 1.3 million. In comparison, detentions along the border last year diminished dramatically. The DHS report shows that in 2011 the Border Patrol detained only 340,253 illegal immigrants, the lowest number since 1971.
Immigration experts have said that the number of illegal people crossing the border is diminishing due to the economic crisis in the United States, as well as more strict immigration controls.
Soto did not give up and in 1999 he managed to squeeze through the border again. This time he made it to Miami, where in 2011 he met and married Silvia Soto, the mother of their four children. One of them, Samuelito, 4, has development problems besides a squint and hypermetropia in both eyes.
It wasnt until May 16 of this year that immigration authorities discovered that Soto had returned to the United States.
Like thousands of other undocumented immigrants who cannot obtain an official ID, Soto was driving without a drivers license and one day the police stopped him for a traffic violation. He was arrested and taken to the local jail where he was fingerprinted.