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October 18, 2011

U.S. deportations reach historic levels

By Jim Barnett, CNN

October 18, 2011 — Updated 2022 GMT (0422 HKT)
An undocumented Guatemalan charged as a criminal prepares to board a deportation flight in Mesa, Arizona, this summer.
An undocumented Guatemalan charged as a criminal prepares to board a deportation flight in Mesa, Arizona, this summer.

  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement says the numbers show a focus on priority groups
  • Nearly 55% had been convicted of felonies or misdemeanors, it says
  • “These year-end totals indicate that we are making progress,” Director John Morton says

Washington (CNN) — Nearly 400,000 people were deported from the United States in the past fiscal year, the largest number in the history of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, the government announced Tuesday.

The year-end removal numbers “underscore the administration’s focus on removing individuals … that fall into priority areas” such as lawbreakers, threats to national security and repeat violators, the agency said in a news release.

Overall in fiscal year 2011, immigration officials said, 396,906 individuals were removed. Of these, 216,698, nearly 55%, had been convicted of felonies or misdemeanors. That’s an 89 percent increase of criminals from three years ago, the enforcement agency said.

“This includes 1,119 aliens convicted of homicide; 5,848 aliens convicted of sexual offenses; 44,653 aliens convicted of drug related crimes; and 35,927 aliens convicted of driving under the influence,” it said.

The percentage was even higher for some regions. In the sector that covers Houston, Beaumont and Corpus Christi, Texas, about 74% of the 20,450 removals were of people with criminal records, said Gregory Palmore of the agency’s Houston office.

“Smart and effective immigration enforcement relies on setting priorities for removal and executing on those priorities,” said agency Director John Morton. “These year-end totals indicate that we are making progress, with more convicted criminals, recent border crossers, egregious immigration law violators and immigration fugitives being removed from the country than ever before. Though we still have work to do, this progress is a testament to the hard work and dedication of thousands of ICE agents, officers and attorneys around the country.”

The government said 90% of the agency’s removals fell into a priority category and more than two-thirds of the other removals in 2011 were either recent border crossers or repeat immigration violators.

The American Civil Liberties Union reacted to the announcement by again criticizing the Obama administration’s emphasis on deportations.

“All told, this administration has deported nearly 1.2 million people, leaving a wake of devastation in Latino communities across the nation,” Joanne Lin, ACLU legislative counsel, said in a news release. “These record-breaking deportation numbers come at a time when illegal immigration rates have plummeted, the undocumented population has decreased substantially and violent crime rates are at their lowest levels in 40 years.”

Lin also said the deportations represent “uncontrolled, unwarranted” spending of taxpayers’ money by the Department of Homeland Security, of which the immigration agency is a part.

The department’s chief, Secretary Janet Napolitano, last week defended the administration’s polices as she gave advance notice that this fiscal year would end with a record number of removals.

“What … critics will ignore is that while the overall number of individuals removed will exceed prior years, the composition of that number will have fundamentally changed,” she said in a speech at American University.

The Department of Homeland Security more than a month ago announced that the government would review about 300,000 deportation cases pending in federal immigration courts. Lower-priority cases — those not involving individuals considered violent or otherwise dangerous — would be suspended under the new criteria.

That change drew criticism from the other side of the immigration issue, with some people who favor more deportations characterizing it as a back-door amnesty program aimed at skirting the nation’s immigration laws.

Napolitano said the approach is a common-sense way to tackle immigration problems with limited resources.

“There has never been, nor will there be in these tight fiscal times, sufficient resources to remove all of those unlawfully in the country,” she said last week. “That is why it is so important to set clear priorities.”

CNN’s Tracy Sabo contributed to this report.


Syria remains in Arab League


So, what do you think of your husband’s brutal crackdown, Mrs Assad?

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Syria's First Lady Asma al-Assad, who stonewalled questions about the violence carried out in her husband's name GettySyria’s First Lady Asma al-Assad, who stonewalled questions about the violence carried out in her husband’s name

Vogue magazine famously called her a “rose in the desert”, while Paris Match proclaimed she was the “element of light in a country full of shadow zones”. But when Syria’s glamorous First Lady invited a group of aid workers to discuss the security situation with her last month, she appeared to have lost her gloss.

During the meeting, British-born Asma al-Assad – who grew up in Acton and attended a Church of England school in west London – came face to face with aid workers who had witnessed at first hand the brutality of her husband’s regime. Yet according to one volunteer who was present, the former investment banker and mother of President Bashar al-Assad’s three children appeared utterly unmoved when she heard about the plight of protesters.

“We told her about the killing of protesters,” said the man, who asked not to be named for fear of retribution. “We told her about the security forces attacking demonstrators. About them taking wounded people from cars and preventing people from getting to hospital … There was no reaction. She didn’t react at all. It was just like I was telling a normal story, something that happens every day.”

Syrians working with aid agencies to try to help the thousands injured as Mr Assad’s security forces unleash tanks, guns and airpower to crush a seven-month uprising against his rule had hoped for a lot more. The First Lady’s office contacted them and said she wanted to hear about the difficulties they faced in the field. She met the humanitarians in Damascus.

“She asked us about the risks of working under the current conditions,” he added. But when she was told about the abuses of power being committed by her husband’s notorious secret police, Mrs Assad’s blank face left them unimpressed. “She sees everything happening here. Everything is all over the news. It’s impossible she doesn’t know,” said the volunteer. Yet even if Mrs Assad does know about the worst of the violence and the 3,000 civilians human rights groups accuse the regime of killing, many people who have met her question what she could possibly do about it.

“Whatever her own views, she is completely hamstrung,” said Chris Doyle, the director of the Council of Arab-British Understanding. “There is no way the regime would allow her any room to voice dissent or leave the country. You can forget it.”

Mrs Assad, who achieved a first class degree in computer science from King’s College University, was brought up in Britain by her Syrian-born parents, who were close friends of Hafez al-Assad, the former President of Syria. She started dating Bashar al-Assad in her twenties, and they eventually married in 2000, when she moved to Syria for the first time.

According to one prominent Western biographer of the Assad family, Bashar chose Asma against the determined opposition of his sister and mother. “He had lots of beautiful girlfriends before her,” said the journalist, who asked not to be named. “He faced opposition when he wanted Asma because she was Sunni and he is Alawite. Here was Bashar al-Assad marrying outside the clan.”

She championed several development initiatives, and delivered genuine change by helping to create NGOs in Syria, as well as highlighting the plight of disabled children and laying the groundwork for plans to rehabilitate dozens of Syria’s ramshackle museums.

For some, she is the modern, made-up face of a former pariah state; to others, an aloof, 21st-century Marie Antoinette. Either way, nothing perhaps crystallised the fate of Syria’s First Lady better than the disastrously-timed interview run by Vogue magazine in its March issue this year.

Amid obsequious descriptions of Chanel jewellery and her matey banter with Brad Pitt during the Hollywood star’s 2009 visit to Syria, the article described how the Assad household was run on “wildly democratic principles”. According to Mrs Assad: “we all vote on what we want, and where.”

Naturally, many outraged Syrians were left asking why the Assads could not extend them the same courtesy.


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