HIDALGO, TX - MAY 28: Special agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Border Patrol, and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) question a man while his vehicle is searched after he was stopped heading into Mexico at the Hidalgo border crossing on May 28, 2010 in Hidalgo, Texas. The inspection was part of a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) joint effort between ICE, CBP and Customs and Border Patrol. The organizations are trying to slow the flow of guns, money and drugs from the United State into Mexico. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
In 2011, the country saw the most deportations in U.S. history. The information was released Tuesday by the Department of Homeland Security. Officials say half of those illegal immigrants were convicted criminals.
Officials say nearly 400,000 illegal immigrants were deported in the last year, making this a record number of deportations for the Obama administration for the third straight year.
According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement over half of those deported had criminal records ranging from drug-related offenses to homicide. Officials say it is part of a strategy to focus deportations on illegal immigrants who pose a threat to national security.
Those on the priority list include: repeated border-crossers, border removals - meaning anyone caught right at the border. Also, on the list, immigration fugitives or people who have been in the U.S. for years and have ignored a judge's order.
A spokeswoman for ICE tells NBC 7 that by focusing on deportees with criminal backgrounds, ICE can make more use out of their strapped resources more effectively.
While officials see this record high as a testament to their success, former U.S. attorney Peter Nunez says the process is only creating a sanctuary for everyone else. "Basically what we've said for the last 10 or 15 years is if you can make it across the border illegally or if you could come in on a visa temporarily and overstay we're not going to look for you…unless you commit some terrible crime,” said Nunez.
An ICE spokeswoman says out of the nearly 400,000 deportations, over 33,000 came from the San Diego field office, almost twice as many deportations for the local office in the last decade.