Courts & Crime

Man's accidental deportation raises immigrants' fears

Two months after questions were raised about the legality of his deportation by U.S. authorities, a Salvadoran man returned from his homeland Tuesday to a tearful reunion with his wife in Miami.

Meanwhile, friends and relatives of two Miami Dade College students are drumming up support to keep the two men from being deported to their native Venezuela.

The cases, say immigrant rights advocates, have rekindled fears that immigration authorities are stepping up detentions and deportations.

"The immigrant community expected reform, that was promised, and all they've got is increased enforcement," said Jonathan Fried, executive director of WeCount!, a Homestead-based immigrant rights group planning a public meeting Saturday on immigration enforcement. "The Obama administration has no heart. It's all about politics."

U.S. immigration authorities counter that they continue to focus their enforcement efforts on criminal aliens — immigrants who are convicted of crimes while in the United States, said Barbara Gonzalez, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman in Washington.

The latest numbers show that ICE arrested nearly 16,000 criminal aliens in fiscal year 2009, up from less than 8,000 in the previous year. In Miami, arrests have climbed from 263 to 725 during the same time period.

"Our numbers are a clear indication that our focus is on criminal aliens," Gonzalez said.

ICE officials would not provide details on the case of Jose C. Rodriguez-Portillo, the Salvadoran man allowed to return to the United States or that of the students, Guillermo and Jesus Reyes.

None of the three immigrants are criminal aliens but the legal status of all three remains in question.