WASHINGTON — The United States deported a record 392,000 illegal immigrants over the past year, nearly half of them people with criminal convictions, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Wednesday.
The number deported during the 2010 fiscal year ending September 30 surpassed the record of 389,000 deportations set the previous year.
More than 195,000 of those deported were convicted criminals, according to the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
"This administration has focused on enforcing our immigration laws in a smart, effective manner that prioritizes public safety and national security and holds employers accountable who knowingly and repeatedly break the law," Napolitano said.
Illegal immigration has become a hot election year issue, particularly in border states like Arizona which is wrestling over a controversial law that requires police to question suspected aliens about their immigration status.
Napolitano, herself a former Arizona governor, used the latest statistics to make the case that the administration of President Barack Obama has been tougher in enforcing immigration laws than his Republican predecessor George Bush.
She said the by-the-books approach has resulted in the removal of "more convicted criminal aliens than ever before and issuing more financial sanctions on employers who knowingly and repeatedly violate immigration law than during the entire previous administration."
Immigration agents have audited 3,200 employers suspected of hiring illegal immigrants, debarred 225 companies and individuals, and levied 50 million dollars in penalties -- more than during the entire Bush administration, ICE said.
Deportations of convicted criminals were up 70 percent in 2010 compared to 2008, the final year of the Bush administration, the agency said.