Immigration officials highlight crackdown on criminal element

2010-10-07T01:00:00Z Immigration officials highlight crackdown on criminal elementBy ART HOVEY / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com
October 07, 2010 1:00 am  • 

The United States deported record numbers of illegal aliens with criminal records in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, according to figures released on Wednesday by Homeland Security officials.

In a conference call with reporters, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said removing more than 195,000 convicted criminals from within U.S. borders shows the Obama administration "takes very seriously our responsibility to secure our borders and to enforce the nation's immigration laws."

In offering other details from an annual report, Napolitano stressed beefed-up numbers of border patrol agents and said "the number of illegal crossings has decreased to record lows."

Figures for the five-state region that includes Nebraska reflect patterns similar to the national report.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials in Minneapolis said that of the 5,925 deportees from the region, 2,817 had criminal records. That's up 4 percent from a year ago, said regional ICE spokesman Shawn Neudauer.

The immigrant enforcement statistics were released less than a month before November congressional elections. But Nebraskans with strong feelings about immigration offered less than universal acclaim.

Lourdes Gouveia, a sociology professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, said the announcement left a lot to be desired by those who are looking for broader-based reform of immigration laws.

"I think, rather than celebrating more rage and more police actions," Gouveia said, "we should be pondering what our strategy is, to address what the real issue of immigration is, which is uniting families, not dividing."

Gouveia, also the director of the Office of Latino and Latin American Studies at UNO, and Darcy Tromanhauser, director of the immigration program at the Appleseed Center in Lincoln, are still looking for the path to citizenship for millions who hold jobs and stay out of trouble.

"There are still too many innocent mothers and youngsters and working fathers arrested and jailed for a long time," Gouveia said, "even in our own jails, including Douglas County."

Tromanhauser said she hadn't seen the statistics involving deportees with criminal records.

"If that's what the data shows," she said, "then I think the question is where is the rest of reform, because there's a lot of talk about how we need enforcement in order to get to creating a system that's workable and lives up to our values."

The Homeland Security report got a better reception from John Wiegert, part of the citizen group in Fremont that wants a local crackdown on employers who hire illegal workers and landlords who give them a place to live.

But even Wiegert shaped his remarks in a way that demonstrated sharp differences of opinion in Fremont and elsewhere.

"I would definitely say that's good news," he said of the latest enforcement measurement, "and it just kind of supports what we've done in Fremont.

"Our opposition is always claiming Fremont doesn't have a lot (of illegals) and that there's not as many coming into the United States as we say there are," he said. "This just proves it's a major problem around the country."

Gouveia, however, said that a national enforcement strategy that emphasizes catching criminals can be misinterpreted by the public to mean that many of the people who cross the border illegally go on to commit crimes against other people.

She called that polarizing effect "an intangible consequence that's not being considered by the administration," and one that contributes to hostile attitudes toward "a largely innocent, hard-working population of immigrants."

Reach Art Hovey at 402-473-7223 or at ahovey@journalstar.com.

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