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US government increasing enforcement of immigration laws: report

Mounting emphasis on enforcement of existing immigration laws under the Obama administration has seen a sharp rise in deportations by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) [official website], according to a Washington Post report [text] Monday. The new emphasis on enforcement was outlined in a June memo [text, PDF] from ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton [official profile]. ICE expects to have the resources to deport 400,000 illegal immigrants this year, a 10 percent increase over last year's total. Additionally, raids on corporations suspected of employing illegal immigrants have seen a fourfold increase over the Bush administration, and law enforcement officers have made the deportation of convicted felons and federal offenders their primary focus, according to the memo. Resources should be focused on illegal immigrants that endanger national security, who have been convicted of crimes or otherwise endanger public safety, the memo emphasized. Critics of the Obama administration have decried the latter policy as facilitating arbitrarily uneven enforcement of the law. Earlier this month, President Barack Obama called for comprehensive immigration reform [JURIST report], noting the role of immigrants throughout US history and indicating that immigrants must continue to play a role as the country grows and develops.

Last week, a Syracuse University study indicated that backlogs at US immigration courts are up by more than 30 percent [JURIST report] in the past 18 months. As of January 2009, there were an estimated 10.8 million illegal immigrants in the US, one million less than in 2007, according to the Department of Homeland Security [official website]. In that same period, deportations have more than doubled, peaking at 387,790 last year. Federal authorities have indicated that the workload would continue to grow if Arizona's new immigration law [SB 1070 materials; JURIST news archive] is implemented. The Arizona law criminalizes illegal immigration and requires police officers to question an individual's immigration status if the officer has a "reasonable suspicion" to believe an individual is in the country illegally. The constitutionality of the law has been widely disputed, and the legislation is now facing several lawsuits [JURIST report].

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