2010 IS SHAPING UP as a record year for deportations, with nearly 40,000 more immigrants banished under President Obama this year than his Republican predecessor back in 2008.
And although the new crackdown is supposed to focus on "high-risk" immigrants convicted of serious crimes, new evidence in Multnomah County shows that many people who wind up in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody have committed only minor crimes or even no crimes at all.
Among the crimes that have led to rising numbers of deportations? Not paying MAX fare.
Eighteen months ago, Portland attorney Sarah Krick saw her first deportation case dealing with an immigrant arrested for fare evasion. Since then, Krick has handled about 20 more, all of them immigrants who failed to pay their $2 fare.
"This particular phenomenon is a real change," says Krick, noting that until recently it was rare for immigrants charged with misdemeanors to be deported.
Other advocates have seen deportation proceedings for immigrants caught driving without a license or with expired plates. Oregon bans illegal immigrants from obtaining or renewing driver's licenses, making them susceptible to the new sweep.
"Many times the breadwinner is arrested on a very minor charge that would result in community service and a fine in most circumstances," says Krick. "They get arrested, and their wife and children here are without any source of income and I'm trying to facilitate a way for this family to find food."
Under the new Secure Communities program, rolled out in Oregon and nationwide this year, local law enforcement agencies are helping ICE run the fingerprints of arrested immigrants. It doesn't matter whether the person arrested is actually guilty—if they're unable to prove legal residence, they will likely be trucked to the government's privately run immigration jail in Tacoma ["Criminal Aliens," News, June 24].
In a statement, ICE says Secure Communities is a cost-effective way of removing "criminal aliens" and keeping communities safe. But immigration-rights groups protest the program both on the streets and in court, saying it tears apart families and acts as a dragnet rather than a focused tool.
From October 2008 through July 2010, ICE booked 148 people into custody in Multnomah, Marion, and Clackamas Counties, according to data released only after ICE lost a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by three legal advocacy groups in April.
Of those 148, 73 were convicted of no crime. Forty-five were convicted of serious crimes like robbery or assault, and 30 were convicted of lesser property crimes or misdemeanors (the category that TriMet fare evasions fall under).
Meanwhile, in the past decade, the rate of arrestees detained by ICE in Washington County jails has increased 20-fold, from .29 percent to 5.95 percent.
Romeo Sosa, executive director of Portland-based Latino group VOZ, met with the state attorney general's office last week to discuss concerns that Secure Communities is targeting low-level offenders and non-criminals.
"More people are deported than ever," says Sosa. "It's affecting everyone. Latinos, they don't want to report any crime. There is increase in the distrust of the police."