A 19-year-old young woman broke down in tears when an immigration judge asked how being separated from her mother, her only parental figure in the home, would affect her.
“I wouldn’t be able to do it,” said the American-born woman, who has a younger sister also born in the United States.
The 35-year-old mother, a Mexican citizen with two DUI offenses from more than a decade ago, was facing deportation, but is now going through a cancellation of the removal process.
“You always need a mom around,” the 35-year-old woman said Tuesday through a court interpreter minutes before her daughter was called to the witness stand during the immigration hearing at the Las Vegas Immigration Court.
Deportation often creates broken homes when parents are separated from their U.S.-born children or spouses. Last month, President Barack Obama called for top immigration officials to review all U.S. deportation practices after meeting with Latino congressmen concerned about detention issues, including the hardship that creates for families.
One of the federal programs that is part of the deportation issue is the Secure Communities program run by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Since the program began in Nevada in 2010, about 3,470 people have been deported.
Secure Communities was designed to remove those who are in the country illegally and who pose a potential threat to public safety. Under the program, fingerprints of every individual arrested and booked into custody are checked against immigration records. The program began in 2008 and is now in every jurisdiction across the country, said Virginia Kice, spokeswoman for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Western Region.
Typically, law enforcement submits fingerprints to the FBI, which then shares the fingerprints with ICE. ICE then decides whether to deport the person based on the crime committed, according to federal officials.
“This capability has proven to be an important tool in ICE’s efforts to prioritize the removal of convicted criminals,” according to Kice.
In Clark County alone, 3,004 people have been deported since the Secure Communities program began in July 2010, according to ICE. The data covers statistics through the end of January.
Of those deported in Clark County, 888 were convicted Level 1 criminals, meaning they were convicted of “aggravated felonies” or had committed two or more crimes punishable by more than one year in jail.
About 400 were convicted Level 2 criminals, which includes immigrants in the country illegally who have been convicted of any felony or three or more misdemeanors.
About 656 were convicted Level 3 criminals, which includes such immgrants who have been convicted of misdemeanors, punishable by less than one year.
Level 1 offenses include serious crimes, such as murder, rape and drug trafficking, according to Kice. Level 2 crimes include felony forgery, fraud and property crimes such as burglary as well as those convicted of three or more misdemeanors.
Level 3 offenders include those convicted of a misdemeanor such as a DUI, according to Kice.
As local law enforcement can attest, Kice said the number of immigrants in the country illegally deported for misdemeanors is high because “these types of convictions are far more frequent than arrests and convictions for aggravated felonies.”
Secure Communities has the same deportation priorities as another ICE program called 287 (g), which requires additional resources, such as trained officers. It focuses on cases that might not be flagged by Secure Communities, but require more investigation, Kice said.
Thirty-seven law enforcement agencies in 18 states partner with ICE under the 287 (g) program.
Data show a “successful track record” of removing violent immigrants in the country illegally from communities under the 287 (g) program, said Lt. Brian Arizmendi, who oversees the efforts under the partnership between ICE and Metro. Those removed include felons and repeat offenders.
Officers take what they call “passes” on certain individuals they come across based on the crime they committed, Arizmendi said. Often, it’s people with traffic misdemeanors.
It’s not a good use of resources to target individuals with minor crimes just because they are the “low-hanging fruit,” said Tod Story, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada.
“We should be focusing those efforts on individuals who actually could be a harm to the community or have a violent record in their past,” he said. “Lower-level offenses are not a good use of our time or the funds. We should be more worried about the violent issues rather than targeting those easier to locate or find.”
Families end up suffering, he said. The focus shouldn’t be on “destroying families.”
The 287 (g) program is about keeping communities safe, Las Vegas police spokesman Jose Hernandez said. He emphasized that officers are not actively targeting people outside the Clark County Detention Center.
In Washoe County, the number of Level 1 convicted criminals who have been deported under Secure Communities is 117, compared to 115 Level 3 offenders.
Nationwide, under all ICE enforcement efforts including Secure Communities, the agency was able to remove a total of 368,644 immigrants in the country illegally in fiscal 2013 alone, with the majority of them being from Mexico, according to federal officials. Guatemala was the second most represented country of origin, followed by Honduras.
“Nearly 60 percent of all those removed by ICE last fiscal year had been convicted of a criminal offense, and the percentage increases to 82 percent for those arrested in the nation’s interior,” according to Kice.
The 35-year-old woman who was in immigration court Tuesday works about 80 hours a week to provide for her two daughters.
When asked if her daughters would go with her should she be deported, she said the younger one would, but her 19-year-old daughter would make her own decision.
She said separating the sisters “would be terrible … because they are very close — they’ve never been separated.”
Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0440. Follow on Twitter at @YeseniaAmaro