Record Number of Immigrants Deported

Stiffer enforcement of immigration laws is the main reason a record number of immigrants have been deported to Latin America and the Caribbean since October. However, many of them aren't reintegrated back into their home countries, and two Houstonians want the U.S. to help those countries deal with the deportees. Jodi Breisler reports from Capitol Hill.

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One hundred seventy thousand immigrants were deported this fiscal year, nearly a third have criminal records. Many are sent to Mexico, Latin America and the Caribbean without a place to go. University of Houston Sociologist Nestor Rodriguez has been studying this situation in El Salvador. He says they have a tough time supporting themselves.

"Deportees especially the younger ones have a very hard time finding jobs. Not only because jobs are scarce, but also because of stereotypes that exist of deportees as criminals and gang members."

Rodriguez testified before a Congressional Committee about the problems Latin American countries have when they're left with bus and plane loads of deportees from the United States. Rodriguez says the poorer countries have to figure out what to do with deportees who have drug addiction and criminal records. Many return after long stints in prison which harden their behavior. Rodriguez says most have been away from their families for nine years or more.

"Some families complain about and feel uncomfortable with their deported, deported family members returning with problematic behaviors."

Houston Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee says this all falls back to a failed immigration policy. She says over the past ten years, new laws are turning minor and juvenile offenses into deportable felonies. She also says there needs to be somewhere for the deportees to go once they are sent to Latin American and Caribbean countries.

"I think that there are solutions. One, alternative sites and, I think having listened to a number of heads of state from the Caribbean, resources, if you will, facilities, transitional facilities on the soil."

Jackson Lee and other members of Congress worry this is harming U.S. relationships with nearby countries. Other critics say the deteriorating relationships and lack of transitional programs encourage more deportees to sneak back into the United States.

Annmarie Barnes represents the Jamaican government. She testified that countries like hers are told only what crimes sent the deportees back. They have no idea what other past offenses might have been committed.

"We do not receive information on the rap sheet. There are no details on criminal antecedents. And so that's not adequate information to allow us to process an individual who may be deemed a serious risk to our public."

Congress members like Jackson Lee are considering drafting legislation to help these countries without hindering the U.S.' right to deport criminals. The number of deportees from the United States continues to grow and is now at a record high. For Houston Public Radio, I'm Jodi Breisler on Capitol Hill.

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