Federal authorities say their priority is to find and remove illegal immigrants with violent criminal histories, but the stepped-up enforcement in recent years has led to the deportation of hundreds of thousands of immigrants convicted of nonviolent crimes, says a Human Rights Watch study reported by the Los Angeles Times. Nearly three-quarters of the 897,000 immigrants deported from 1997 to 2007 after serving criminal sentences were convicted of nonviolent offenses, and one-fifth were legal permanent residents, the study said.
The deportations cited in the report occurred under a 1996 law that mandated the detention and deportation of all immigrants, even those who are longtime lawful residents, if they committed a crime punishable by at least one year behind bars. The law is retroactive, so immigrants are often deported because of crimes they committed before the law was written. The top reasons for deportation during the 10-year period were entering the U.S. illegally, driving while under the influence of alcohol, assault and immigration crimes, such as selling false citizenship papers. The study is based on data obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.