WASHINGTON — The United States this year will deport a record number of undocumented aliens who are convicted criminals, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Wednesday.
Last year the US government deported a record 390,000 undocumented aliens, including 195,000 with a criminal background, and were even higher in the next 12-month period.
"For the first time in decades, 50 percent of the aliens removed by (US Immigration and Customs Enforcement) had been convicted of a criminal offense," Napolitano said in a speech at the American University in the US capital.
"In 2011, ICE will again remove a record number of convicted criminals from our country," she said.
The government of President Barack Obama has prioritized the deportation of foreign convicted criminals in an attempt to apply immigration laws in a more humane way while waiting for broad immigration reform, a divisive issue currently not on the agenda of the US Congress.
Among those "non-criminals" who were deported in 2010, more than two-thirds "were either recent border crossers or repeat violators," she said.
Napolitano defended new measures approved by the Obama administration to focus on the deportation of people who represent a danger to the United States.
"It makes sense to prioritize our finite resources on removing a Mexican citizen who is wanted for murder in his home country ahead of a Mexican national who is the sole provider for his American citizen spouse," said Napolitano.
The measures "do not constitute amnesty. They reflect the judicious and intelligent use of resources, common sense and prioritization."
She also defended a controversial program known as Secure Communities, which lets local police share fingerprint data of people who have been arrested with federal immigration agents to determine the suspect's immigration status.
Immigrant rights groups say that people who do not represent a danger for the country have been deported due to the program.
But the program "has proven to be the single best tool at focusing our immigration enforcement resources on criminals and egregious immigration law violators," said Napolitano.
If the program were revoked, the country would go "back towards the ad hoc approach where non-criminal aliens are more likely to be removed than criminals," she said.