-- Nearly 400,000 people were deported from the United States in the past fiscal year, the largest number in the history of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, the government announced Tuesday.
The year-end removal numbers "underscore the administration's focus on removing individuals ... that fall into priority areas" such as lawbreakers, threats to national security and repeat violators, the agency said in a news release.
Overall in fiscal year 2011, immigration officials said, 396,906 individuals were removed. Of these, 216,698, nearly 55%, had been convicted of felonies or misdemeanors. That's an 89 percent increase of criminals from three years ago, the enforcement agency said.
"This includes 1,119 aliens convicted of homicide; 5,848 aliens convicted of sexual offenses; 44,653 aliens convicted of drug related crimes; and 35,927 aliens convicted of driving under the influence," it said.
The percentage was even higher for some regions. In the sector that covers Houston, Beaumont and Corpus Christi, Texas, about 74% of the 20,450 removals were of people with criminal records, said Gregory Palmore of the agency's Houston office.
"Smart and effective immigration enforcement relies on setting priorities for removal and executing on those priorities," said agency Director John Morton. "These year-end totals indicate that we are making progress, with more convicted criminals, recent border crossers, egregious immigration law violators and immigration fugitives being removed from the country than ever before. Though we still have work to do, this progress is a testament to the hard work and dedication of thousands of ICE agents, officers and attorneys around the country."
The government said 90% of the agency's removals fell into a priority category and more than two-thirds of the other removals in 2011 were either recent border crossers or repeat immigration violators.
The American Civil Liberties Union reacted to the announcement by again criticizing the Obama administration's emphasis on deportations.