Deporting the Lowest-Level Immigrant Offenders

Deporting the Lowest-Level Offenders

Gilberto Vazquez Ovalles, 34, of Mexico, was at a police roadblock in north Georgia for driving without a license. (AP Photo/Kate Brumback via The American Prospect)

This article was written by Fi2W journalist Aswini Anburajan for The American Prospect.

Until May 2009, Jose Reyes was a small-business owner, a father, and a 19-year legal resident of the United States. But on May 13, 2009, Reyes ran afoul of the police, who arrested him after an argument with a man who had rear-ended his car. Charges against Reyes were dropped three days later, but Reyes wasn’t free. “I asked the police, ‘If the charges are dropped, why aren’t you letting me go?'” he says.

The answer was that the arrest triggered deportation proceedings because Reyes had been convicted of marijuana possession 14 years before, long before the post-September 11 anti-immigration crackdown.

In the years between Reyes’ conviction and second arrest, of course, the system changed. Detentions or arrests by local police now automatically trigger immigration holds. Policies like the Criminal Alien Program and Secure Communities gave local and federal officials powers to work together as they never had before. These policies were meant to target undocumented immigrants or potential terrorists who would otherwise slip through the cracks, and immigration officials had a mandate to concentrate on deporting the highest risks to “national security, public safety and border security.”

Instead, officials have spent most of their time deporting men like Reyes. Newly released internal data from the the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement unit, or ICE, shows that 60 percent of “removals” between October 2008 and February 2011 were of individuals who had either no criminal background or were in the lowest priority category for removals — i.e. individuals like Reyes who had a past violation for an old crime.

To read the whole article, go to The American Prospect.