Sides Debate U.S. Record Number Of Deportations

The federal government deported nearly 400,000 people in the last fiscal year, and more than half of those deported were convicted criminals. Critics say the Obama administration is not doing enough to curb illegal immigration. While others say the government is coming down too hard on immigrant communities — breaking up families and too often deporting people who've done little or nothing wrong.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

One of the issues that's being hotly debated by the Republican presidential hopefuls is illegal immigration. The Department of Homeland Security announced it deported a record number of illegal immigrants in the last fiscal year, nearly 400,000. Most were convicted criminals. The DHS says concentrating on criminals makes the best use of enforcement resources. But as NPR's Alex Kellogg reports, not everyone is convinced.

ALEX KELLOGG, BYLINE: Most people are being deported under the Secure Communities program. The controversial program was created near the end of President Bush's second term. It's meant to ensure the worst criminals are deported first, and ensures information sharing between local law enforcement, the FBI, and the Department of Homeland Security.

Dan Stein says that's not enough. He's the president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR. Stein says many believe the message right now is you can come to the U.S. and stay as long as you want, just don't commit a crime.

DAN STEIN: And the Obama administration is not enforcing U.S. immigration law. They are enforcing against criminal aliens, selected removal policies.

KELLOGG: Stein thinks the administration should do more to support states like Alabama and Arizona, which are cracking down on illegal immigration much harder. On the other side of the debate, many immigrant rights groups aren't satisfied, either. Clarissa Martinez-De-Castro, the director of immigration for the Latino nonprofit La Raza, is taking a wait-and-see approach.

CLARISSA MARTINEZ-DE-CASTRO: It is a no-brainer that you're going to use your resources to focus on people who pose a threat to public safety and national security, and I think that that is a strategy that makes sense fiscally. It makes sense strategically, and it makes sense politically.

KELLOGG: But she says only if such policies aren't implemented too harshly. She says if Latinos think that President Obama is kicking out people for very minor offenses or no offense other than coming here without proper documentation, that could cost him key votes in the next election.

Alex Kellogg, NPR News, Washington.

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