EL PASO, January 31, 2011 (AFP) – The United States deported more illegal immigrants than ever before during the first two years of President Barack Obama’s administration, his government said Monday.
“In both fiscal years 2009 and 2010, Immigration and Customs Enforcement removed more illegal immigrants from our country than ever before, with more than 779,000 removals nationwide in the last two years,” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said.
The Obama administration must prove it is tough on illegal immigrants and can secure the countryâ€™s porous borders if it is to stand a chance of passing a comprehensive overhaul of Americaâ€™s tattered immigration system.
Napolitano announced the record figures in El Paso, Texas – the border city which is the focus of a major drive by the administration to stem the tide of illegal immigrants flowing over the border from Mexico.
“We have strengthened the southwest border in a way that many would not have thought possible,” she said. â€œThis approach focuses on identifying criminal aliens and those who pose the greatest risk to our communities, and prioritizing them for removal.”
Napolitano highlighted huge increases in the number of border patrol agents, immigration and customs officers and intelligence personnel working on the U.S.-Mexico border, but also said there were, “long-standing, systemic problems with our immigration laws.”
The so-called DREAM Act, which would have offered a path to citizenship to young undocumented immigrants who attend college or join the military, fell short in December of the 60 votes needed to advance through the Senate.
Obama dubbed its failure his “biggest disappointment” and insisted he was “persistent” and “determined” to overhaul a system which has left some 11 million undocumented people residing in the United States.
Opposition Republicans said the DREAM act amounted to an “amnesty” for illegal immigrants.
The measure would have offered legal residency to undocumented immigrants under 30 who arrived in the United States before they were 16, have lived on U.S. soil for five years and have not committed serious crimes.
Obama argues that the legislation is key to U.S. economic competitiveness and military readiness and that the act would slash the ballooning deficit by 2.2 billion dollars over 10 years.
In his State of the Union address last week, Obama again pleaded for bipartisan cooperation, saying, “I strongly believe that we should take on, once and for all, the issue of illegal immigration.”