Immigration advocate Frank Sharry said that many people being deported were classified as criminals only because they had previously violated immigration laws and kept coming back into the country to be with their families.
"They should be deporting people who have been convicted of crimes and a more carefully defined set of bad actors," Sharry said. "They've expanded what it means to be a criminal in order to justify the deportations; it is insulting to the immigrant community."
Conservative critics, who favor more deportations, said the new numbers proved the administration was not committed to policing the border.
"The Obama administration just isn't serious about enforcing our immigration laws," said Kris Kobach, a lawyer and Kansas secretary of state who has filed lawsuits challenging the administration's immigration policy. "They seem to be looking for more and more categories of people not to deport."
Alonzo R. Pena, who was the No. 2 official at the immigration agency from 2008 to 2010, said ICE had decided at the beginning of the Obama administration to focus on arresting people who had criminal records and posed a danger to the community.
At the same time, immigration officials decided to increase deportations of newly arrived unauthorized immigrants. A decade ago, most of those recent border crossers would have been immediately returned without having the removal marked on their records. The number of people deported who were caught near the border has increased by 55 percent from five years ago. The increase corresponds with a surge in the number of Border Patrol agents.
"There are emotional factors when you remove someone who has children in schools and bought homes and are part of the community -- those removals are more difficult," Pena said.
Times staff writer Kate Linthicum in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
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