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What Do 396,906 Deportations Mean? 654,895 Children Lose A Parent

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Illinois elected officials Gutierrez, Curran, Quinn, and Durbin lead courageous defense of immigrant families.

On Tuesday the Obama administration's Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that it has deported 396,906 immigrants in the past year. This is the highest number of deportations in U.S. history.

ICE considers it progress that 54% of the deportees are immigrants convicted of "criminal offenses" (either a felony or a misdemeanor). ICE does not specify how many of the deportees are guilty only of the most minor violations. So let us guess that at least 300,000 of the deportees are either guilty of nothing more than coming to the U.S. to work, or of some minor, non-violent offense. Many more of the deportees are people previously deported who have committed no violent crime but have only returned to the U.S. in order to re-unite with their spouses and children.

Congressman Luis Gutierrez responded correctly to the ICE announcement, saying that the record-setting number is "nothing to be proud of." In fact, the Obama administrations' increased enforcement has resulted in the mass incarceration of Latino immigrants. Recently the U.S. Sentencing Commission released statistics showing that, due to the massive increase of prosecutions for non-violent immigration offences, Latinos have become the majority of prisoners in federal prisons for the first time in U.S. history.

What does this very large number of 396,906 mean for families and U.S. citizen children? Let us assume that at least two-thirds of the deportees are married, with an average of 2.5 children. Thus, from the perspective of ICIRR, the impact of this year's accomplishments by ICE is that 654,895 children -- most of them U.S. citizens -- have lost a parent during just the past year due to deportation.

We cannot verify this number because ICE gives very limited information about who they deport. ICIRR had to wait for months to get a simple answer to our Freedom of Information request asking how many immigrants have been deported from the Chicago region in the last 5 years. The answer is 48,330, which using the same calculation means that in the Chicago area alone there are at least 80,550 children who have lost a parent in the last 5 years due to deportations.

Imagine if this were the result of a disease. The newspapers would be packed with stories about the unimaginable, devastating impact on families and communities of this epidemic, and the sages and pundits would be wringing their hands with angst over the future impact on society of this lost generation of children.

This week the Public Broadcasting System's program Frontline ran an incredible documentary by Maria Hinajosa called "Lost in Detention". This is a must-view for anyone remotely interested in the issue of the destruction of immigrant families and what it means for our society. The program includes a powerful interview with Lake County Republican Sheriff Mark Curran on why he has moved from an outspoken advocate of deportation to a vocal critic of these policies. Sheriff Curran will be honored this Friday evening by the Archdiocese of Chicago for his conversion and his courage. The documentary also features Jerry Stermer, Senior Advisor to Governor Pat Quinn, explaining why Illinois became the first state in the nation to withdraw from the Obama administration's signature deportation program, "Secure Communities".

On Wednesday the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee called Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano to testify. Illinois Senator Dick Durbin challenged Napolitano on the slowness of DHS and ICE to implement the stated commitment of the Obama administration to review pending deportations and terminate those of "low priority" cases, including those of DREAM students.

Meanwhile, even as the Frontline documentary was airing, the Republican candidates for President were debating the issue of immigration. Mitt Romney continued to hammer Rick Perry for his softness for supporting in-state tuition that allows undocumented youth to attend Texas universities. This is the same tactic that Romney used four years ago when he attacked John McCain and Mike Huckabee. Perry responded by pointing out Romney's hypocrisy. Romney was "outed" by the Boston Globe not once, but twice, for using undocumented workers to do the yardwork and clean the tennis courts at his mansion in Massachusetts. Unfortunately there was no mention of any workable solutions for immigrants, or any humanity shown towards the families being destroyed.

At ICIRR we mourn the destruction of hundreds of thousands of immigrant families due to the cowardice of politicians who refuse to solve the problem of our broken immigration laws. Republicans across the nation manipulate racial fear to motivate their base and we thank Republican Sheriff Curran for his courage in standing against this demagoguery. In Illinois we have many Democratic officials to be proud of -- our governor, Senator Durbin, Congressman Gutierrez. But I cannot accept the cynicism and cowardice of many Democrats -- including, tragically, the first African-American president of the United States, Barack Obama of Illinois -- who support and implement immigration policies that have resulted in the mass incarceration of Latinos for non-violent immigration violations; the racial profiling of Mexican and other immigrants by local police departments across the nation; and the destruction of immigrant families at historic levels.