MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Even as it challenges the get-tough approach to illegal immigration taken in Arizona, the Obama administration has been waging something of a crackdown of its own. The federal government is quietly deporting hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants and scrutinizing hundreds of employers suspected of hiring them. So far, the moves have earned the administration little credit with opponents of illegal immigration, but plenty of complaints from affected communities.
NPR's Scott Horsley reports.
SCOTT HORSLEY: President Obama told an audience at American University this month it's just not possible to round up and deport all the illegal immigrants in the United States. At the same time, he said his administration would not turn a blind eye to those whod entered this country illegally.
President BARACK OBAMA: No matter how decent they are, no matter their reasons, the 11 million who broke these laws should be held accountable.
HORSLEY: In fact, the federal government under President Obama has steadily increased the deportation of illegal immigrants. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency says it's on a pace to expel some 400,000 people this year eight percent more than the last year of the Bush administration.
ICE spokesman Richard Rocha says the agency is not only deporting more immigrants, it's increasingly targeting those who've also broken other laws.
Mr. RICHARD ROCHA (Spokesman, ICE): More and more, the people who we're removing are criminal aliens, so that means they've been convicted of some sort of crime.
HORSLEY: The government is expanding a program called Secure Communities, now in use in about 450 cities. Rocha says police in those communities now match the fingerprints of everyone they arrest against a federal immigration database.
Mr. ROCHA: With that information, we're able to actively identify who someone is and we're able to prioritize them depending on the types of crimes they committed and remove them.
HORSLEY: The agency says 50 percent of the immigrants deported this year have had some kind of criminal record. That's up from about 30 percent two years ago.
But Clarissa Martinez of the National Council of La Raza complains the government doesn't provide a breakdown of what those crimes are.
Ms. CLARISSA MARTINEZ (National Council of La Raza): Its almost become the broken taillight syndrome where people may be stopped because they have a broken taillight or something similar and then they end up getting caught up in this immigration dragnet.
(Soundbite of protesters)
HORSLEY: Immigrant rights activists protested the increased deprtations outside the White House this afternoon. Meanwhile, Arizonas two Republican senators say the federal government should be putting more resources into securing the border rather than taking their state to court.
Mr. Obama is also targeting employers who hire illegal immigrants. Over the last two years, there's been a nearly six-fold increase in employer fines.
Pres. OBAMA: Ultimately, if the demand for undocumented workers falls, the incentive for people to come here illegally will decline as well.
HORSLEY: Illinois Congressman Luis Gutierrez is a Democrat. He supports a more comprehensive approach to immigration reform.
Representative LUIS GUTIERREZ (Democrat, Illinois): Enforcement, in and of itself, will not end illegal immigration as we know it. But this administration has been about enforcement, enforcement, enforcement, enforcement.
HORSLEY: Gutierrez expects the administration is trying to earn credibility with hardcore opponents of illegal immigration in hopes they'll come around to supporting compromised legislation. So far, though, not one Republican senator has come out in favor of a comprehensive approach. And Gutierrez thinks stronger enforcement is the wrong way to win them over.
Rep. GUTIERREZ: You can close down that border between the United States and Mexico. You could put piranhas in the water. You can electrify the fence, you can put a National Guardsman every three to four feet, and you want to know something? You still won't bring about the reform of our immigration system. They don't care.
HORSLEY: In other words, immigration is becoming one more issue on which President Obama's effort to find the middle ground has meant taking fire from all sides.
Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.