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Obama Actions Would Likely Protect Vast Majority Of Undocumented Immigrants


There are an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., and about 87 percent of them, or some 9.6 million people, would likely be protected from deportation under executive actions that President Obama announced in November. That's according to estimates in a report published today by the research group the Migration Policy Institute. Marc Rosenblum authored the report, and he joins me now. Welcome to the program.

MARC ROSENBLUM: Thanks for having me.

BLOCK: And you find that 87 percent of undocumented immigrants would be given some degree of protection. Who are the other 13 percent - that would be about 1 million and half people - who would be a priority for deportation?

ROSENBLUM: The top priorities for deportation are people who've been convicted of felonies or aggravated felonies, which is another set of crimes defined in immigration law, people apprehended at the border and public safety threats and gang members. And then the second priorities are people who have entered recently, since January 1, 2014. And then the third set of priorities are people who have been ordered removed by a court since January 1, 2014.

BLOCK: And for the vast majority who aren't targeted for deportation, what is somewhat protected mean?

ROSENBLUM: These are enforcing guidelines that direct how the Department of Homeland Security prioritizes people for removal. It's just a set of guidelines that says that DHS is not generally going to go after these people.

BLOCK: You're also talking about potentially 25,000 fewer deportations a year.

ROSENBLUM: Right, when you look at who DHS has deported in the last few years and then compare recent deportations against these new enforcement priorities, about 25,000 people who were deported in 2013 would fall outside of the new enforcement priority. So we estimate that that's about how much deportations are likely to fall. And that would be exclusively people who are already in the U.S., not people apprehended at the border, and people who have not been convicted of crimes and aren't recent entries.

BLOCK: Yeah. And that's an important distinction that you're drawing in your report. You're talking about interior removals. Removal at the Mexican border itself remains a top priority.

ROSENBLUM: That's right. It's been elevated. It was a second priority under the 2010 guidelines, and now it's a top priority. And that really brings formal policies into line with how DHS has, in fact, been prioritizing its enforcement for some time.

BLOCK: Of course, Marc, it's one thing to have enforcement guidelines about deportation. It's another thing to put those into effect, to implement them. Don't the numbers that you're estimating assume that that these policies will be strictly enforced?

ROSENBLUM: Well, one thing that we know is when we look back at the 2010 guidelines, we found that the DHS has actually been very successful at implementing its previous set of guidelines. And in 2013, 99 percent of all removals from the U.S. were consistent with the formal guidelines then in place. So we think that it's likely that DHS will, you know, overwhelmingly adhere to these new guidlines, but there will certainly be outliers. There will certainly continue to be some unauthorized immigrants who fall outside the guidelines who are still going to get caught up in the enforcement process.

BLOCK: What do you think the big take away is from the numbers that you're estimating here? What should we glean from these conclusions?

ROSENBLUM: I mean, I think one really important finding is simply that the vast majority of unauthorized immigrants are not committing crimes. We know that half of unauthorized immigrants have been in the country for more than 10 years, and they are deeply settled in communities around the country. And so I think that these new guidelines are an attempt to make sure that enforcement policies are not going after unauthorized immigrants who this president believes should be getting in line for an earned legalization program.

BLOCK: Marc Rosenblum, thanks for talking with us.

ROSENBLUM: Thank you for having me.

BLOCK: Marc Rosenblum is deputy director of the U.S. Immigration Policy Program with the Migration Policy Institute here in Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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