SEATTLE – Deportations of illegal immigrants with criminal records from Alaska, Oregon, and Washington this past year spiked by nearly 40 percent, while overall removals dropped for the first time in five years, according to new data released by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The data, from October 1, 2008 to September 30, 2009, shows that 10,793 people were deported from the Pacific Northwest, a drop of 117 compared to the previous year.
That marks the first time in the last five years that deportations from the Northwest have dropped. Deportations had increased from more than 4,000 in 2005 to nearly 11,000 in 2008.
But removals of people with criminal records went from more than 3,100 to nearly 4,500 between 2008 and 2009 — a jump of 39.7 percent. Since 2005, criminal removals have more than doubled.
The data "illustrates pretty vividly the priority we're placing on the removal of criminal aliens," ICE spokeswoman Lorie Dankers said. "We believe it's the best way to enhance public safety."
Dankers said moving resources resulted in a slight decrease in deportations of immigrants with no criminal records, but she said that ICE cannot ignore that section of the illegal immigrant community.
She added ICE has moved its resources to focus on immigrants with criminal records. Crimes under which a person may be deported can range between a misdemeanor and a felony.
ICE has various programs that feed its criminal removals, including the "Criminal Alien Program," in which agents comb jails for people who are not in the country legally. Another program — "Secure Communities" — uses computerized analysis to help local law enforcement determine a person's background.
Dankers also said ICE is heavily involved in anti-gang initiatives around the region.
The spike in criminal deportations was welcomed news for Jim Ludwick, president of Oregonians for Immigration Reform, a group that lobbies for stricter immigration rules. But he deemed the decrease in deportations of non-criminal immigrants as a letdown.
"That's disheartening, if you look at unemployment in Oregon, it's about 11 percent, and I know it's similar in Washington; when you have millions of people who are working here, who are willing to work for less than living wages, it depresses the wage market for Americans," Ludwick said.
Deportations of immigrants with no criminal record dropped by 18 percent to 6,331 in the Northwest in that period.
At Salem-based CAUSAOregon, an immigrant advocacy group, executive director Francisco Lopez said that drops in deportations don't mean immigrants are not being affected by immigration enforcement. He points to an Obama administration policy of going after employers with audits. That, Lopez said, has caused immigrants to lose their jobs.
"It doesn't matter if they're deported. They're getting people to leave. They leave them without a livelihood, because they're losing their jobs," Lopez said.
Nationwide, deportations jumped to more than 387,000 in the same period — an increase of 65 percent over the previous year.