The federal government says it has steadily increased the number of illegal immigrants it removes from the country annually, but critics say the effort is still shackled by a critical lack of personnel and detention facilities.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently released its latest data on the number of illegal immigrants deported.
In fiscal year 2007, which ended Sept. 30, ICE deported 221,600 illegal immigrants, including 84,700 who were convicted of criminal offenses. In the previous fiscal year, 204,200 were deported, although a greater number — 89,500 — of immigrants with criminal convictions were deported.
Critics say those numbers are only a small percentage of the nation's undocumented population. They also say ICE still doesn't have the manpower or detention facility space to remove thousands of undocumented immigrants held in local jails.
''Even the most obvious candidates for deportation, people in jail whose sentences are coming to an end, we don't even get most of them thrown out of the country," said Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies, an organization based in Washington, D.C., that favors limited immigration.
''The majority of criminal aliens finishing their jail time are still released into the community, rather than being deported."
A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman did not dispute those claims.
The Department of Homeland Security estimated 302,500 illegal immigrants would be detained in state and local jails in the 2007 fiscal year, according to a report last year by the Office of the Inspector General.
"Most of these incarcerated are being released into the U.S. at the conclusion of their respective sentences because (ICE) does not have the resources to identify, detain and remove these aliens," the Inspector General reported.