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More migrants will avoid deportation under Obama's new policy, report says

More migrants will avoid deportation under Obama's new policy, report says
Liz Sullivan, mother of Kathryn Steinle, is consoled by Sabine Durden, left, at a Senate judiciary  hearing on immigration policies. (Molly Riley / AP)

Twenty-five thousand more people will avoid deportation each year under a new federal information-sharing agreement with local jails, but more immigrants convicted of serious crimes will be deported, according to an analysis of deportation numbers by a nonpartisan think tank.

Using Census Bureau and Homeland Security Department data, the Migration Policy Institute issued a report Thursday that asserts the so-called Priority Enforcement Program would target about 13% of immigrants in the U.S. without authorization, or about 1.4 million of the estimated 11 million people.

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Previous immigration policies targeted a much wider swath, about 27% of all immigrants in the country illegally, or about 3 million people.

The new program has the "potential to substantially reshape" enforcement practices by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, report author Marc Rosenblum wrote.

President Obama announced in November that the Priority Enforcement Program would replace the older Secure Communities program, which provided immigration agents with fingerprint records collected at local jails.

In some cases, agents with ICE asked local law enforcement officials to hold inmates believed to be in the country illegally beyond the length of their jail terms so that they could be transferred to federal custody.

Hundreds of local and state governments, including in California, refused to cooperate or enacted policies to limit law enforcement from cooperating with the program.

The Priority Enforcement Program tried to answer those concerns. It is aimed at "felons, not families," Obama said, prioritizing the deportation of people who have committed serious crimes or are considered a threat to national security.

Under the Priority Enforcement Program, federal immigration authorities may ask local law enforcement agencies to notify them only if an immigrant inmate is a gang member, a national security threat or has already been convicted of serious crimes.

Those who argue for fewer deportations and their political rivals, who seek to limit all immigration into the U.S., each took the report to support their own positions.

"I'm not sure this report is something the administration wants to see," said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, which advocates for lower numbers of immigrants allowed into the country.

"It shows the vast majority of illegal aliens are exempt from immigration law."

The report was issued during a turbulent stretch for the administration's immigration policies after Kathryn Steinle was killed July 1 in San Francisco and Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, a Mexican immigrant with a record of felonies and deportations, was charged with her murder.

When asked whether he was confident in the report's assertion that more criminals would be deported under the new program, Krikorian laughed and said, "You can quote me on that. They've been saying this for six and a half years."

Immigration advocates aren't sure that the program will do less harm than its predecessor, Secure Communities.

"Hopefully, DHS will further [home] in and direct law enforcement resources on those who really pose a threat to our security," said Beth Werlin, policy director at the American Immigration Council. "This work is harder and more time-consuming and may result in fewer deportations.

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"The focus should be quality, not quantity."

Twitter: @nigelduara

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