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Originally published Sunday, December 23, 2012 at 7:41 PM

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Number of immigrants deported from Northwest declines

In a year that saw piecemeal approaches by the Obama administration to address illegal immigration, deportations from the Northwest declined but nationally hit a record.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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The federal government expelled more than 6,700 immigrants from the Northwest region during the fiscal year that ended in October — an 11 percent decline from the previous year and the reverse of a national trend.

Most of those deported — 68 percent — were immigrants with criminal records.

Nationally, the government deported 409,000 people from the country this year. It was a record number, up 3 percent from last year.

Slightly more than half of those removed were criminals.

Immigration advocates have long decried the rising deportation of immigrants in the absence of any movement by Congress to fix the nation's flawed immigration system, saying too many of those expelled are people with no criminal records.

The expulsions — involving immigrants legal and illegal — came in a year that did see piecemeal action by the Obama administration to stem deportations. Immigration offices across the country, for example, were urged to exercise discretion in deporting those without criminal records. Also, this fall, the Department of Homeland Security began granting deportation reprieves to hundreds of thousands of young people nationwide who were brought to this country as children and who are deemed to pose no security risk.

Last week, the administration issued new guidelines for immigrants placed on what's known as immigration detainers at local jails. Now, anyone subject to deportation — illegal immigrants as well as those here on green cards — could be placed on a so-called immigration detainer after being arrested and booked in jail.

The new guidelines restrict using such detainers against those arrested for minor misdemeanor offenses such as traffic violations or other petty crimes.

Some who favor strict enforcement of the nation's immigration laws have criticized the administration's effort as irresponsible and politically motivated, and say it undermines laws now on the books.

Deportations from the Seattle area — which includes Washington, Oregon and Alaska — hit a high in 2008 of more than 10,900.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said the numbers have since declined, in part, because ICE has gradually moved away from the practice of transferring detainees from other detention centers to the Seattle area. The transfers often were necessary to ease overcrowding elsewhere, particularly along the border with Mexico, but resulted in immigrants being moved far away from nearby relatives. When the immigrants eventually were removed, those deportations were all then credited to this region.

ICE said reducing the need to transfer detainees is a key goal in its ongoing effort to reform its detention system.

Matt Adams, an attorney with the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project said although deportation numbers are down locally, detention has not slowed.

In previous years, he said, under a process known as stipulated order of removal, immigrants were routinely deported after waiving an appearance before an immigration judge. Adams said an analysis showed that the Northwest was among the regions of the country with a disproportionately high number of removals under this process.

ICE had ended the practice, he said, resulting in a "steady increase in the daily detention count."

"They're busier than ever," Adams said. "They're still processing folks, it's just taking longer to remove them because they are now asserting their rights in removal proceedings."

Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or lturnbull@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @turnbullL.

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