In 2001, there were roughly 18,000 criminal deportations compared to a projected 91,000 in 2012 — roughly a 400 percent increase, according to data from TRAC.
In 2011, ICE reported a record-high 188,000 criminal removals, which includes both deportations and voluntary departures.
But the figures should be looked at critically. Many of those deported have never actually been convicted of a crime, since simply being charged with a crime is grounds for deportation. Of those who have been convicted, the crime may have been minor or non-violent, including a prior immigration infraction or drug possession.
"The Obama administration claims that more of the people they're deporting have been convicted of a criminal violation, although our data says that may not be true," says TRAC's David Burnham. "What they mean by a criminal violation is someone arrested bicycling on the sidewalk; really they've defined everything as criminal. And they're using that to get rid of people."
One of the reasons for the spike in deportations during the Obama administration is a relatively new immigration enforcement program called Secure Communities. First launched in 2008, the program is now in effect in states across the country, and will be national by 2013.
Secure Communities requires local law enforcement to share the fingerprints of arrestees with Homeland Security. The prints are run through a database, and if the search turns up an immigration hold, the arrestee can be detained until federal immigration authorities arrive.
The program empowers local police officers to serve as de facto immigration agents, whether they want that responsibility or not. If a police officer arrests someone for running a stop sign, the officer might be effectively threatening the arrestee with deportation. Likewise, an undocumented crime victim fearful of being accidentally arrested, fingerprinted, and deported may be less likely to come forward with tips for authorities.
Considering the billions of dollars allotted to immigration enforcement in the past decade, it's not surprising that private businesses want to get onboard. Enter the Corrections Corporation of America and the GEO Group, the two companies that manage most of the country's private immigration detention centers.
In Washington, the industry's lobbyists have influenced policy to secure growing numbers of federal inmates in its facilities, while encouraging Congress to increase funding for detention bedspace. Here in this southern Arizona community, private prison companies share the spoils of their business with the local government, effectively giving area law enforcement an incentive to apprehend as many undocumented immigrants as they can.
This confluence of forces has contributed to a doubling of the ranks of immigrant detainees, to about 400,000 a year. Nearly half are now held in private prisons, up from one-fourth a decade ago, according to the Department of Homeland Security. The two largest for-profit prison companies, Corrections Corporation of America and The GEO Group, Inc., have more than doubled their revenues from the immigrant detention business since 2005, according to securities filings.