PHOENIX - The federal government deported nearly 73,000 illegal immigrants from Arizona in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, a 64 percent increase from the previous fiscal year.
According to statistics from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Arizona led the nation in deportations - comprising about a fifth of the total 349,041 illegal immigrants deported nationwide.
ICE said there were 72,955 immigrants deported from Arizona last fiscal year compared to 44,376 deported the previous year.
The numbers include immigrants who were undocumented when they were detained and those who lost their legal status after being convicted of crimes.
"We've made a commitment to the American people to embark on an ambitious enforcement strategy," said Jon Gurule, deputy field-office director of ICE's detention-and-removal operations in Arizona.
That strategy includes forging partnerships with state and local law-enforcement agencies to identify and detain illegal immigrants, which in the past was almost exclusively the job of the federal government.
Some immigrant advocates and community leaders say the increased cooperation has come with a heavy price by making immigrants more reluctant to report crimes to police out of fear they could be deported.
"It's brought on continued fear and instability throughout the community," said Jose Robles, director of Hispanic ministries for the Phoenix Catholic Diocese.
As a border state, Arizona serves as a regional hub for deportations, so some of the immigrants deported last year were caught in other states and brought here before being removed from the country.
But Gurule attributed the bulk of the increase to the success of programs that rely on state and local authorities to identify illegal immigrants, who are then turned over to ICE for deportation.
As a result, he said thousands of criminals have been deported and made Arizona safer.
ICE has an agreement with the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office to use jail officials and deputies to identify illegal immigrants, Gurule said.
They are turned over to ICE even if they are not later convicted of any crimes.
Under the program, sheriff's officials trained by ICE identified more than 12,000 illegal immigrants booked into the jail last year. Sheriff's deputies trained by ICE arrested an additional 1,100 illegal immigrants last year, Gurule said.
Critics have accused the Sheriff's Office of violating the agreement with ICE by targeting Latinos during minor traffic stops in order to look for illegal immigrants, in violation of their civil rights.
Information from: The Arizona Republic, http://www.azcentral.com
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