Post by Gabriella Sanchez, Research Fellow,  Monash University, Australia

Source: Cuéntame
The emergence of Barack Obama as presidential candidate in 2008 and his initial commitment to a comprehensive reform of the U.S. immigration system generated hope among the millions of irregular migrants living in the United States and their families, who for decades had been awaiting changes in immigration law that would allow them to live free of fear of being forcibly removed from their homes, arrested or deported. This hope was primarily translated into the suffrages that carried Obama into office, in an exercise of what policy makers referred to at the time as the growing power of the immigrant vote.
The long-awaited reform, however, did not arrive. Immigration related concerns were moved to the backburner as Obama focused instead on what he considered were more pressing items of his economic agenda, like job creation amid a weakening American economy. Yet to say the country experienced no changes in terms of immigration policy during the course of the first Obama administration would be amiss. In fact, it was during this term that some of the most severe immigration control policies in recent history were introduced and implemented.
Federal attempts to impose sanctions upon employers hiring irregular immigrants – a priority of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency in charge of immigration – led to an exponential increase in the number of employment site inspections and raids. Other federal initiatives focused on granting authority to engage in immigration control efforts to local law enforcement agencies. Programs like Secure Communities and 287(g) have trained thousands of local police officers nationwide on how to enforce immigration law. Combined, both measures have resulted in the arrest and deportation of hundreds of thousands of men and women. In fact, according to ICE, the number of deportations during the Obama administration has surpassed that of his predecessors, having exceeded the 400,000 mark in 2012 alone.
The immigration control trends that have emerged during the Obama administration are not only significant due to the number of arrests involved. They have played a determinant role in the changes to the makeup of those who currently experience immigration-related detention and deportation. While in the past the majority of the people in immigration custody were constituted by those detained in their initial attempts to enter the country, the number of individuals being held and deported as a result of local immigration enforcement operations continues to increase. A recent report from the University of Arizona points out these detainees are much more likely to have resided in the U.S. for extended periods of time and to have families constituted by at least one U.S. born member.
Source: Brave New Foundation
ICE has continuously claimed that most arrests fall within its enforcement priorities – that is, involving individuals who have committed serious criminal offenses like homicide and sex-related offenses. Yet most arrests leading to the arrest and deportation of irregular migrants involve much lesser crimes, ranging from drug and alcohol possession to vehicular and traffic violations. Moreover, in some parts of the U.S., immigrant advocacy groups have documented how such arrests are carried out during raids or police operations specifically targeting areas with a high concentration of immigrants, and relying upon the use of practices like racial profiling, as in the case of the City of Phoenix, in the border state of Arizona.
Currently, the U.S. Congress is debating an immigration reform bill, following the outcome of the most recent presidential election in which Obama was once again able to garner the majority of the immigrant vote, although with significant challenges given his poor track on immigration. The proposed reform, however, does not offer effective solutions to the immigration crisis. It imposes excessive fines and penalties upon those seeking to regularize their immigration status (a 13 year waiting time requirement as a path to citizenship being one of the most problematic). The bill provides no significant changes to visa caps that would allow for family reunification. This is a reason for concern, primarily among immigrant families of Latino origin, whose applications constitute the majority of those filed under the family-sponsoring visa category, and which backlogs can translate in waits of up to 20 years. And while scholars and community activists have continued to raise awareness over the changes in the composition of the deportee population, members of the U.S. Congress have stated that their support for the bill will be conditioned to a significant increase in the level of security along the U.S.-Mexico border. All of these challenges raise concerns over the likelihood of fair and humane immigration reforms to pass in the immediate future, further complicating the lives of the millions of irregular migrants in the U.S.


Interested in more on U.S. immigration policy and border control? See this recent blog post by Daniel Martinez and Robin Reineke on the Border Criminologies blog.

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style):

Sanchez, G. (2013) U.S. Immigration Reform and the Changing Face of Deportation. Available at: (accessed [date]).