WASHINGTON — Nearly a third of criminal immigrants removed from the U.S. last year had committed crimes involving "dangerous drugs," statistics released by the Homeland Security Department show.
Dangerous drug crimes include manufacturing, distribution, sale and possession of illegal drugs, the department said. Of the 128,345 criminal immigrants removed from the country, 37,993, or 29.6 percent, were deported for dangerous drugs, according to the department.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Richard Rocha said immigrants who are counted as criminals have been convicted of crimes or have a record of a conviction for a crime. But immigration advocates are skeptical of the definition because ICE enforcement includes detaining people before they've been convicted, its definition of crimes includes misdemeanors and minor traffic offenses and its definition of a criminal immigrant has been inconsistent, said Michele Waslin, a senior policy analyst at the Immigration Policy Center.
Immigrants with traffic offenses ranked second, with 20,367, or about 16 percent, removed for those violations. Immigration violations such as entering the country illegally, immigrant smuggling and false claims to citizenship were a close third at 15.4 percent or 19,807.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement says it removed a total of nearly 390,000 people from the country in 2009.
About 290,000 had been removed as of July 22, the agency reported. By the same time last year, 322,687 people had been removed.
The Obama administration has made deporting immigrants who commit crimes a priority of its immigration enforcement policies, and Congress has tried to steer funding toward such arrests and deportations.
Nearly half of those deported so far this year are considered criminals, compared to about 30 percent for the same period last year. The number of non-criminals removed has dropped to 150,137 compared to 209,247 as of July 2009.
The strategy has drawn criticism from people and groups on both sides of the immigration issue. Those supporting tougher immigration laws say the administration should do more to apprehend people in the country illegally but who have not committed crimes.
Meanwhile, immigrant advocates criticize the White House for detaining and deporting more people than the Bush administration and sweeping in people who have committed minor offenses.
The list of leading crime categories was posted on the Homeland Security Department's website Wednesday.
The department also said reinstatements of removal orders — given to people who illegally re-enter the U.S. after a previous removal — accounted from 31 percent of all removals last year, up from 25 percent in 2008.
2009 Immigration Enforcement report: http://tinyurl.com/36qg7vd