Arrests of illegal immigrant workers have dropped precipitously under President Obama, according to figures released Wednesday.
Criminal arrests, administrative arrests, indictments and convictions of illegal immigrants at work sites all fell by more than 50 percent
from fiscal 2008 to fiscal 2009.
The figures show that Mr. Obama has made good on his pledge to shift enforcement away from going after illegal immigrant workers themselves - but at the expense of Americans' jobs
, said Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, the Republican who compiled the numbers from the Department of Homeland Security's U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE).
Mr. Smith, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, said a period of economic turmoil is the wrong time to be cutting enforcement
and letting illegal immigrants take jobs that Americans otherwise would hold.
"Those stolen jobs should be returned to out-of-work citizens and legal immigrants," he said. "The Obama administration should put citizens and legal immigrants first, especially when it comes to jobs."
One area where the Obama administration has made progress was in audits of businesses' I-9 forms, which jumped 300 percent
. Those audits could produce fines in the future, but Republicans said that most businesses consider them a cost of doing business, not a deterrent
The numbers were released just days after Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano
said the administration has made such advances on border security that Congress should now work on legalizing illegal immigrants
"These statistics reflect a myopic, outdated and distorted view
of effective enforcement," said Homeland Security spokesman Matt Chandler. "Just a week ago, we highlighted the more than 11,000 murderers, rapists and kidnappers identified in our jails by the Secure Communities program in the last year, nearly 2,000 of which have already been deported. ICE has prioritized its enforcement efforts by focusing on hardened criminals and employers who knowingly hire illegal workers and break the law."
According to the newly released figures, administrative arrests of violators of immigration laws fell 68 percent from 2008 to 2009, criminal arrests fell 60 percent, criminal indictments fell 58 percent and convictions fell 63 percent
Fiscal 2008 ran from Oct. 1, 2007, through Sept. 30, 2008. Fiscal 2009 began Oct. 1, 2008
, and ran through Sept. 30 of this year. Mr. Obama took office Jan. 20.
The Obama administration has promised to pursue a new legalization program next year
. It would create a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants who commit to steps such as paying back taxes and waiting a set period of years.
In a speech last week, Ms. Napolitano said they have made enough progress on border security and immigration enforcement
that Congress can now turn its attention to legalization.
But Republicans said her speech was premature. They pointed to uncertainties about the numbers and that with hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants still being apprehended on the borders
, the flow has not been controlled.
They also argue that legalizing illegal immigrants in the middle of a recession is unfair to Americans looking for jobs