Few Illegal Immigrants Removed Twice by ICE in Arizona; Repeat "Removals" Only 4 Percent in 2009



New info obtained by ICE shows that the Arizona's border isn't quite the revolving door some may think it is.

Of the illegal immigrants "removed" from Arizona by the U.S. Immigration and Customs bureau in 2009, 4 percent of those individuals had also been removed in 2008.

Most of the ICE removals don't involve an official deportation, though some do.

The Phoenix-based ICE office is the busiest in the country, and set another ICE record last fiscal year by removing 81,429 people from Arizona back to their home countries. (The government's fiscal year ends September 30).

In fiscal year 2008, ICE removed 72,955 immigrants, as we reported that November.

ICE's removal figures don't include the majority of illegal immigrants caught by the Border Patrol at the border. Yet the Border Patrol still provides ICE with its the biggest single source of immigrants to be removed, explains ICE spokesman Vincent Picard. The Border Patrol hands over to ICE all immigrants caught at Arizona's southern border who:

*Are not Mexican.

*Need to see an immigration judge.

*Are not "immediately removable" for one reason or another.

Another large source of ICE removals are the people identified through the Maricopa County jail's 287(g) program. About 12,000 people booked into the jail each year are flagged as illegal immigrants and removed by ICE to their home countries rather than released back into the community.

Much of the rest were delivered to ICE by local and state law enforcement agencies via drop houses, smuggling loads, traffic stops, or other encounters. ICE also apprehends thousands of immigrants itself through enforcement and warrant programs.

In response to May 4, 2010, Freedom of Information Act request to ICE, the agency sent a letter to New Times last week revealing that only 3,433 of the people removed from Arizona in 2009 had also been removed from the state in 2008.

The figure surprised Jack Martin of the anti-illegal-immigrant group FAIR, who called it "ridiculously low." Martin had speculated the number of repeat offenders found by ICE would "certainly" be large. He says he's been fighting for months to get similar recidivism numbers from the Border Patrol.

ICE's letter notes that people removed from Arizona "may have been apprehended elsewhere."

ICE has 24 field offices nationally, but we only asked for the Arizona numbers, (heck, we didn't even think we'd get that!) The second-busiest office for removals in San Antonio took out 38,569 immigrants last year from its Texas area of operations. All the other offices saw removals last year of fewer than 20,000 apiece.

Could the law enforcement heat in Arizona be so hot that immigrants, once busted, take pains not to return? Or maybe the low repeat rate is because Arizona is more of a transit hub for human smuggling rather than a final destination. Another complicating factor: We only requested one year's worth of data, so perhaps the rate of repeat illegal visitors over several years is higher than 4 percent.

We can't tell you the precise significance of the 4-percent figure.

But if ICE is right, then you're wrong if you thought the folks shipped out of Arizona simply turn around and come right back.



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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.