This week’s release of the DHS Office of Immigration Statistics report “Immigration Enforcement Actions: 2009” is a must read for those interested in immigration enforcement. The report sheds an interesting light on the federal government’s argument against portions of Arizona law, S.B. 1070, and also contains some positive long-term metrics that demonstrate the sustained work of law enforcement in this area.

Consider Table 4 of the FY 2009 report, which details ICE’s progress in removing criminal aliens. The report shows that ICE removed 128,345 criminal aliens in FY 2009. This is a substantial improvement over FY 2008, consistent with the agency’s commitment to the Secure Communities program and its 287(g) partnerships.

The report gives a breakdown of the types of convictions these criminal aliens had, including convictions for dangerous drugs, immigration-related offenses, assault, larceny, fraud, burglary, sexual assault and family offenses. Of note for FY 2009, the second most common criminal conviction was “traffic offenses,” accounting for over 20,000 (15.9%) of ICE’s criminal alien removals. This is new. Traffic offenses did not comprise a separate category in the FY 2006, 2007 or 2008 Immigration Enforcement Reports, but were merely listed in the catch-all “other” category, which primarily includes less serious crimes, as well as crime categories that represent less than 2% of the total removals.

With traffic offenses taken out of the “other crimes” category for FY 2009, one would expect the “other crimes” percentage to be significantly down. It is not – removals attributed to the “other” crimes category are nearly the same for this year and previous years. This suggests that in FY 2009, ICE had a significant spike in removals for traffic convictions or “other” minor offenses when compared to previous years, rather than a spike based on removals for more serious criminal categories.

Arizonans take note. Given the Administration’s position on the Arizona law, it is remarkable that broken tail lights, speeding and other minor crimes appear to be such a significant part of the Administration’s criminal alien initiative. How can the federal government criticize Arizona for wanting to process criminal aliens who have been arrested for “minor” traffic offenses when its own statistics for criminal alien removals demonstrate that the Administration has ramped up removals for the same offenses?

In the litigation on S.B. 1070, the district court’s opinion relied heavily on the federal government’s declarations and assurances regarding federal priorities and targeting of significant criminal offenders. Unfortunately, those assurances appear to be inconsistent with actual statistics, at least for FY 2009.

Even with these inconsistencies, however, DHS has much to highlight in the FY 2009 report. The report reveals some significant positive metrics, including an odd couple of successes: fewer CBP apprehensions and more ICE apprehensions and removals. Moreover, the long-term data is worth analyzing. When you compare the removals in fiscal year 2001 to the removals in fiscal year 2009, for example, it is apparent that the government is making a concerted, longer-term effort to address the problem of illegal immigration.

The American public’s view that the government does not have a long-term commitment to enforcement has been one of the biggest stumbling blocks to immigration reform. As the FY 2009 report demonstrates, however, the federal government has removed more individuals for seven consecutive years. That’s more than a blip – these results demonstrate some progress and a bipartisan commitment to starting to secure our borders after the neglect of the late 1990s.

These results have not been enough for the citizens of Arizona and many other states, but they do show progress. DHS should use the FY 2009 report to help convey all that has been done.

Julie Myers Wood blogs about a variety of immigration, national security and transnational crime issues. Read More