Politics & Government

Obama steps up deportations of illegal immigrants

Ricardo Velasquez walked into the Mecklenburg County jail in North Carolina on Tuesday night charged with raping children ages 7 and 8.

After a fingerprint scan and a few taps of the computer, the accused assailant was further identified: as an illegal immigrant from South America.

Velasquez, 40, still must be tried on his criminal charges in the United States, but more than likely, he won't leave custody until he boards a plane for his native Ecuador.

The Obama administration has said it is on track to remove a record number of illegal immigrants this year, buoyed by an increased emphasis on finding and deporting aliens who, like Velasquez, pass through the nation's jail system after having been convicted or accused of crimes.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement now lists its top deportation priority as those undocumented immigrants convicted of the most dangerous crimes - murder, rape, assault and major drug offenses.

And a local-federal partnership in place in Mecklenburg and other N.C. counties, and making strong inroads in states such as Virginia, Texas and Florida, could eventually affect how the federal government deports illegal immigrants across the country.

"We're seeing success," said Department of Homeland Security spokesman Richard Rocha. "The numbers show that."

The administration has said given its current resources, it could deport up to 400,000 illegal immigrants this fiscal year, including an estimated 150,000 convicted criminals.

Last year, nearly 390,000 illegal immigrants were removed. Critics of the ongoing deportation program say the numbers tell only part of the story. Despite the focus on violent criminals, the majority of the removals handled by ICE still are noncriminals or immigrants accused of lesser infractions such as traffic violations and misdemeanors.

Just 16 percent of immigrants removed this fiscal year are the top-priority, violent criminals known as "Level 1" immigrants, according to data from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

More than 50 percent of those removed this fiscal year are considered noncriminal.

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