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Deportations from US Rise Dramatically

The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, or ICE, reported a 44 percent increase in deportations last year. A senior ICE agent says he expects deportations to continue to rise in line with the US government's tougher stance on illegal immigration. From VOA's New York Bureau, Mona Ghuneim reports.

ICE Special Agent Peter Smith, who oversees the New York region, says the significant increase in deportations stems from the agency's recent expansion. As the largest investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security, he says ICE now has more agents, more facilities and more support from the US Congress.

Smith says the Department of Homeland Security set combatting illegal immigration as a priority over three years ago, but it took a while for the agency to see concrete results.

ICE data show more than 280,000 people were deported in fiscal year 2007, compared with 186,000 the year before. Why the big jump?

"We've seen quite a growth within Immigration and Customs Enforcement in our arrest teams, with the deportation teams, along with the actual process of moving the people out. They've (Homeland Security) bought planes, they've entered contracts with certain jails so that we can move these people through the system much quicker," he said.

Speaking to members of the foreign press in New York earlier this week, Smith said an additional reason for the rise in the number of deportations is the increase in judges prosecuting cases and ordering deportations.

Smith says illegal immigration is consistently an important issue for ICE, but the upcoming U.S. presidential election is making it even more so. "Immigration is probably the biggest, hottest topic in our election. We can watch CNN, FOX, CBS, ABC - usually every one of their nightly stories has something to do with the immigration concerns. And it's always going to be a hot topic."

Smith says it can take months, sometimes years, to arrest and deport someone, but he expects deportation numbers to continue to climb, especially over the next few years.