Posted on February 18, 2005

Illegals Going Back By The Planeload

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.

Year Total deportations Percentage involving criminals
1998 97,183 57.4%
1999 91,857 69.8%
2000 100,219 65.5%
2001 108,107 63.3%
2002 115,885 59.9%
2003 145,292 53.5%
2004 157,281 52.6%

‘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