Donna Leinwand, USA TODAY, Feb. 16
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic—Ana Ortega
left here for the USA 14 years ago. She never thought she’d return, much
less like this: in handcuffs and ankle shackles, on a U.S. government jet with
49 others whose criminal convictions got them deported from the USA.
Ortega, 27, said that she was a legal permanent
U.S. resident and that until recently she was an office manager for a chiropractor
in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood. Four years ago, she was convicted
of conspiracy for being a bit player in a drug-smuggling ring. Her husband,
a U.S. citizen and repeat offender, received 10 years in prison; she got probation.
She was ordered to appear at a deportation hearing, but she skipped it.
In another time—before the Sept. 11 attacks
focused attention on lax enforcement of immigration laws—she probably would
have been free to continue living in the USA with her two young children. U.S.
agents rarely pursued hundreds of thousands of fugitives like Ortega. That’s
what happened in her case for nearly three years—before agents showed up
at her door seven months ago.
Mostly criminals deported
The number of illegal immigrants deported by the
U.S. has jumped, especially since the Sept. 11 attacks. In the budget year that
ended, the U.S. has deported more illegal immigrants with criminal records,
than in any previous year.
‘Busy all the time’
During the year that ended Sept. 30, U.S. Immigration
and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deported a record 157,281 immigrants. Like Ortega
and the others aboard the flight to Santo Domingo, more than half of those deported
last year had criminal records, a reflection of ICE’s emphasis on booting
such people from the country. The jet that brought Ortega back here also included
convicted drug dealers, sex offenders, robbers and wife beaters.
As ICE agents have pursued criminals who are in
the USA illegally, they also have swept up record numbers of illegal immigrants
who have committed no crimes other than violations of visa limits and other
immigration laws. That helped increase the total number of deportations by more
than 45% from 2001 to 2004.
Most of those deported—more than 70% in 2004—have
been returned to Mexico. Most of the rest have been sent back to Central or
South America or to the Dominican Republic. ICE now has four jets that in 2003
alone made 317 flights to return more than 18,500 immigrants to their native