The number of people deported from the Los Angeles area has fallen sharply in recent years, with the biggest drop occurring in the last few months, new federal statistics show.
The plunge in deportations comes as President Obama seeks controversial changes to the nation’s deportation policies and local law enforcement agencies across the country roll back their cooperation with immigration agents.
From Oct. 1 of last year, the start of the fiscal year, to March 7, agents deported 2,527 people from the seven counties in the Los Angeles region, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement data. That is roughly half the number of people who were deported during the same time frame a year earlier, and roughly a quarter of those deported in that period the year before that.
Advocates on both sides of the immigration debate say the decrease, which mirrors a nationwide drop, is not surprising.
In November, Obama announced a plan to extend legal protections to millions of immigrants who are in the country illegally and to deport only those who have been convicted of serious crimes.
At the same time, court decisions and new laws have made it much more difficult for federal agents to catch immigrants they believe should be sent home.
“It alarms me but it doesn’t surprise me,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors stricter enforcement of immigration laws. “This administration just does not want to be deporting anybody except for the very worst.”
The drop in deportations is being celebrated by immigrant advocates, who say it is the result of years of marches, sit-ins and hunger strikes.
“This is happening because our community pushed back,” said Pablo Alvarado, the director of the L.A.-based National Day Laborer Organizing Network.
Many of the movement’s recent protests have focused on ending programs that allow federal authorities to identify potentially deportable immigrants by scanning fingerprints of people booked into local jails. Agents often ask the jails to delay releasing such immigrants until they can be picked up.
Advocates say the practice violates the immigrants’ constitutional rights, has resulted in racial profiling and has led to the deportation of people booked for low-level offenses, such as driving without a license.
In California, circumstances shifted in immigrants’ favor with the passage of the Trust Act in 2013. The law limits the ability of local authorities to cooperate with immigration agents who ask them to hold inmates beyond the length of their jail terms.
Last year, advocates scored another victory when a federal judge found an Oregon county liable for damages for holding an inmate so she could be transferred to federal custody. Soon after, dozens of jurisdictions across the country decided to stop complying with immigration “detainer” requests altogether, including nearly every county in California.
In December, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said ICE detainer requests were denied 10,182 times in fiscal year 2014, forcing the agency to go to extra lengths to locate and arrest immigrants. He also blamed an influx in immigrants from Central America for stretching resources.
Statistics show deportations have dropped nationwide, though at a slower rate than in Los Angeles.
Since the start of this fiscal year, 101,201 people have been deported by ICE, according to federal data, down from 151,238 during the same period in 2012. (Deportations carried out at the border by Border Patrol agents — a separate category — have also declined.)
Opponents of Obama’s approach to immigration say the drop in deportations is a risk to public safety and proof that Obama isn’t serious about enforcement.
After a plan he supported that would provide a path to citizenship for 11 million immigrants in the country without permission failed to pass in Congress last summer, Obama said he would act on his own.
In November, he pledged to expand deportation protections to about 5 million immigrants, mostly parents of U.S. citizens.
After dozens of states sued to stop the plan, a federal judge in Texas halted the program in February, saying the states’ lawsuit was justified because of a “failure of the federal government to secure the borders.” The case is pending.
This month, in an operation that some said was timed to show that agents are still aggressive about enforcement, ICE announced the arrests of 2,059 immigrants with criminal histories during a five-day dragnet called Operation Cross Check.
While some of those arrested had been convicted of violent crimes, such as manslaughter, robbery and rape, many had not, ICE said.
Advocates say immigrants continue to live in fear of being picked up and deported because of such federal sweeps.
Alvarado, the day laborer advocate, said his group would continue to push for protections.
The deportation drop, he said, “is only a partial victory, because there are still people getting deported.”