As members of Congress work to hammer out immigration-reform proposals in
Washington, Inland immigrant-rights activists are stepping up protests against
deportations in Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
Two demonstrations in the past few weeks highlighted what activists alleged were U.S. Border Patrol stops of Latino workers without evidence they are undocumented immigrants. Activists filed a complaint against the actions with the agency that oversees the Border Patrol and are planning to lodge another complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice.
The protests underline the larger political challenges in enacting comprehensive immigration reform.
Demonstrators want an end to all deportations while immigration-reform talks continue in Washington. Immigrant-rights activists nationwide have called for at least a moratorium on deportations of undocumented immigrants who are not serious criminals.
But some members of Congress are calling for stepped-up enforcement and border security before immigration reform is considered. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, who represents most of Temecula, said legalizing the status of illegal immigrants shouldn't even be discussed until the border is so secure that not a single person is able to cross illegally.
Public opinion falls somewhere between ending deportations and requiring a hermetically sealed border, said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC and a former Republican strategist.
"The challenge for elected officials in both parties is to try to draw a distinction between the loudest voices on both sides and the broader public opinion," he said.
Stopping or dramatically scaling back deportations probably would kill immigration-reform efforts, Schnur said.
Emilio Amaya, executive director of the San Bernardino Community Service Center, an immigrant-assistance organization, acknowledges that a big reduction in deportations would likely hurt the chances of comprehensive immigration reform. He sees them as part of an Obama administration effort to attract Republican support for immigration reform.
"The problem with this from our perspective is they're deporting some of the people who could benefit from immigration reform," Amaya said, referring to undocumented immigrants who likely would qualify for legalization if the law is changed. "I think it's a contradiction."
Deportations under the Obama administration are at record levels, at nearly 410,000 in fiscal year 2012.
The administration has said that it is focusing its deportation efforts on serious criminals, recent border crossers and repeat immigration-law violators.
But U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement statistics show that only 19 percent of deportees in fiscal year 2012 were convicted of the most serious crimes, such as murder, rape, child sexual abuse, drug trafficking and some categories of theft and burglary. Another 12 percent were convicted of less serious felonies, or of three or more misdemeanors.
About 41 percent had recently crossed the border or had repeatedly violated immigration law by, for example, returning to the United States after deportation.
The other 28 percent -- about 115,000 people -- were convicted only of
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