That a large numbers of immigrants are being arrested and deported under the Obama administration is no secret. But some of those individuals are being arrested as they try to return south across the U.S.-Mexico border. A recent NPR story indicates that a growing number of immigrants are being arrested, imprisoned and then deported once they are caught trying to leave the country voluntarily.
The arrests typically occur as border agents search cars and buses for large sums of money. Federal law requires that amounts over $10,000 be declared when leaving the country. Customs and Border Protection officers search the vehicles because they believe large sums are being smuggled to Mexican drug cartels. If, in the process, they discover individuals who are in the country illegally they arrest and detain them.
Robert Brack, a federal judge in Las Cruces, N.M., has seen an increase in such cases in his courtroom. Brack has sentenced over 14,000 people in the last decade but he told NPR he only began seeing cases where people were arrested for trying leave in the last two years. He said he understood why officials are searching vehicles for smuggled cash but added, “the people that I see [don’t] have any money.”
“They've never had any money, and they certainly don't have any guns,” he said. “It's just people that were in the country without permission trying to leave.”
That flies in the face of reason according to Cheryl Blum, a lawyer from Tucson who has defended numerous people caught in such situations.
“If they're trying to leave, they're actually trying to obey the law,” she said. “I think to stop them and then use up resources just to try to punish these folks is a complete waste of money.”
The reason for the prosecutions may be an attempt by the Obama administration to inflate deportation numbers. The Los Angeles Times reported in early April that the White House’s figures on immigrants it had removed from the country are misleading.
"If you are a run-of-the-mill immigrant here illegally, your odds of getting deported are close to zero — it's just highly unlikely to happen," said John Sandweg, acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Instead most arrests for deportations occur at the border. During past administrations, immigrants caught at the border would have been detained and returned south but they would not have been counted as a formal deportation. Now they are.
Boosting the numbers was likely a political ploy by the Obama administration intended to silence critics who said he was soft on immigration. But it is a ploy that is now backfiring as the president faces condemnation from immigration activists who often refer to him as the “deporter in chief.”