Despite repeated statements from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that its main deportation targets are undocumented immigrants considered threats to the public or national security, more than 1,000 people have been flagged for deportation in Austin’s Travis County in the past three years after arrests for minor infractions like traffic tickets or public intoxication, an Austin American-Statesman analysis found. ICE data show that the Travis County Jail has become one of the busiest — and most efficient — deportation hubs in the U.S. since federal immigration agents boosted their presence in the jail about four years ago and later began using a controversial program known as Secure Communities to check the immigration status of everyone booked into the jail.
Since its 2008 launch in Harris County, Secure Communities — which helps agents identify potential deportation targets by comparing fingerprints against immigration databases — has been promoted as a tool to help target “the most dangerous and violent offenders” in the nation’s jails and prisons. ICE says it has the money and manpower to deport about 400,000 people a year, so it focuses on serious felons, repeat offenders, gang members, and other public threats, and instructed its employees last year to use more discretion in deciding who to flag for deportation. In Travis County, twice as many people have been deported after a misdemeanor arrest in recent years than have been deported after a felony arrest.