The deportation of illegal immigrants is on the rise, according to immigration officials who attribute the record numbers to increased enforcement.
Deportations in the first five and a half months of fiscal year 2008 were higher than in all of 2001, according to U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement figures. In all of 2001, 116,202 immigrants were deported. To date in 2008, 119,429 immigrants have been ordered to return home, records show.
Scott Sutterfield, assistant field office director in the Office of Detention and Removal in New Orleans, said that over the last several years immigration officials have redoubled their efforts to detain and deport illegal immigrants.
He credited “fugitive operations teams” and a program that cross-designates state and local officers to enforce immigration laws for the increased number of deportations.
For many immigrants, the deportation threat of coming to the United States is worth the risk, said one 42-year-old native of Honduras who works in the Chattanooga area.
“It is hard to make that decision, but sometimes one risks all for necessity in order to help support our families back home,” said Abel, who asked to be identified only by his last name since his wife is among 100 Pilgrim’s Pride workers detained on April 16. She is awaiting a deportation hearing.
Abel left two younger sisters and his mother in Honduras eight years ago to find work in the United States. Here, as in many Latin American countries, money is everything, he said.
“If you are poor, no one is going to help you get the visa to come to the United States. That’s for those who have money who can afford to pay the bribes,” he said.
But increased immigration enforcement has created anxiety in the Hispanic community.
“You leave for work in the morning not knowing if you are going to come back,” Abel said.
Those who support a more secure border and stricter enforcement of current immigration laws argue that the number of deportations remains small compared to the number of undocumented immigrants in the United States, estimated at 12 million.
“None of the illegal aliens in the United States have any right to be here,” said Noella Oberlin, a member of the Cleveland, Tenn.-based Tennessee Federation for Immigration Reform and Enforcement and an immigrant from New Zealand. “They should go back to their country and apply to come here legally.”
The majority of immigrants deported nationwide are from Mexico, followed by Honduras and Guatemala, federal figures show. The majority of Hispanic immigrants in Chattanooga are from Guatemala, followed by Mexico, according to organizations that work with the community.
In Dalton, Ga., the majority are from Mexico, followed by Guatemala.
The Guatemalan Consulate in Atlanta, which serves Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina, reports the number of Guatemalans deported has more than doubled during the last two years.
From January to April 2008, there were 575 deportations, almost twice as many as in 2006. Last year, on average, there were 100 people returning to Guatemala on a daily basis, said Beatriz Illescas, consul general of the Guatemalan Consulate.
Ms. Illescas said the Guatemalan government and other nonprofit organizations are trying to develop programs to help those who have to leave the country and return home with nothing.
“For a good percentage of Guatemalans, coming to the United States means ending their life in Guatemala,” she said. “It means total loss of everything they have. It means not having a place to go back to.”
Abel said he had to borrow $4,000 from friends in Atlanta to make the journey.
“You could never dream of having that amount of money in Honduras,” he said. “The minimum wage is about $3 a day, mainly for agricultural work.”
Abel said he is prepared should he be forced to return home. He said he has worked hard and saved money.
“I knew I was only coming here to work,” he said. “That’s all I have been doing. At least I wouldn’t go back empty-handed.”
Perla Trevizo joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 2007 and covers immigration/diversity issues and higher education. She holds a master’s degree in newswire journalism from Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid, Spain, and a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Texas. In 2011 she participated in the Bringing Home the World international reporting fellowship program sponsored by the International Center for Journalists, producing a series on Guatemalan immigrants for which she ...