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WASHINGTON - Amid President Donald Trump's push for tighter immigration policies, the United States deported more than 256,000 illegal immigrants in 2018 - an increase from the year before, but still lower than the peak of the Obama administration.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Deputy Director Ronald Vitello announced last week that in the past federal fiscal year, which ended in September, ICE detained 'a record number” of illegal immigrants and that the number of those deported has risen about 13 percent since 2017.
In the Midwest region that includes Iowa and four other states, the increase in removals was higher than the national average - a 20 percent jump since 2017.
The data shows that 145,262 of those who were deported nationwide were convicted criminals and that 22,796 had criminal charges pending against them.
In addition, some 5,872 were reported as known or suspected gang members and 42 were believed to be terrorists, according to the report.
The number of families and unaccompanied children who were deported also increased. ICE said that 2,711 who were traveling in families and 5,571 unaccompanied children were removed from U.S. soil.
'We've continued to achieve gains in all meaningful enforcement measurements,” Vitello said, despite significant underfunding.
The total number of those deported include some of the men detained after a May 9 immigration raid at the Midwest Precast Concrete plant in Mount Pleasant.
In that raid, 32 men - 22 of whom were from Guatemala - were taken into custody.
Of the 32, at lease five have been deported. Others were appealing or were released on bail.
One of those deported, Elmer Urizar Lopez of Guatemala, was the sole supporter of a teenage son, Walfred. He said they fled Guatemala because drug dealers were threatening his son.
A family from the First Presbyterian Church in Mount Pleasant took in the teen while he attended high school there and sought asylum.
Since taking office, Trump has maintained a harsh stance on illegal immigration and in favor of border security.
Last week, he vowed to do 'whatever it takes to get border security,” in large part by building a border wall. The president's promise to assuage the ongoing 'crisis” at the U.S.-Mexico border has also included a series of executive orders in recent months, including calling for separation and detention of families entering at the border and limiting those eligible to apply for asylum.
Mary Bauer, deputy legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, said it is 'appalling and morally unconscionable that this is the place where we find ourselves” - deporting people 'without a sense of priorities.”
'It used to be that there was a sense that they were looking for people who had committed serious crimes,” she said in an interview.
In fact, U.S. deportation numbers were higher during the Obama administration, reaching 409,849 in 2012, according to ICE's Enforcement and Removal Operations reports. Data shows that in 2015 and 2016, however, the number of those deported dropped to 235,413 and 240,255, respectively.
Under the Trump administration, Bauer said that there has been a sense that immigration officials are 'looking for everyone,” which has 'created a society of fear and terror” in immigrant communities.
'We know the kinds of criminal violations that send people into the deportation machine,” she said. 'People are there in large number because of minor traffic violations.”
According to the 2018 report, ICE also arrested more than 158,000 immigrants, most of whom were convicted criminals. ICE data shows that the largest number of criminal convictions - more than 54,000 - were for drunken driving charges, followed by 'dangerous drugs,” other traffic offenses and immigration violations.
In the ICE region that includes Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota, there were 3,423 deportations in the last federal fiscal year - an increase of 20 percent over the 2,841 deported in 2017.
The Washington Post contributed.