Thirty-seven Eritreans have died while being deported back to their home country from the U.S. since the Secure Communities Program began in 2006, according to the Washington Post.
The program, started by the Obama administration, effectively creates so-called "stop-loss" for migrants who have criminal records or court-ordered removal orders, using their criminal histories as the basis for deporting them.
The overwhelming majority of those migrants are African. The Post reports that the United States "has deported a record number of immigrants since the nation passed the sweeping Secure Communities law in 2008, many of them from South America, Central America and the Caribbean but also from other countries, especially in Africa."
Since 2006, the U.S. deported more than half a million undocumented migrants to 22 countries, with the majority crossing into the U.S. from Mexico.
Last December, Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia was the first member of Congress to publicly request an inquiry into the deaths of the Eritreans from the program, saying, "allowing these deportees to die and be turned back to their imminent danger in Eritrea is an abomination and a tragedy."
Since then, two more of the Eritreans have died. According to the Post, "from early 2012 through October last year, the Interior Department deported 3,207 Eritreans to the East African country."
In January, the Post reported that the bill that would overhaul and enhance the Secure Communities Program (SB913) was stuck in the Senate because of "critics' concerns about its potential for racial profiling" and because "anti-immigrant groups believe legislation would favor enforcement efforts over measures to improve integration of newly arrived migrants, such as increased training for customs officers and customs agents and funding to extend more educational opportunities."
It also ran "a data analysis by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center on 1,055 convicted foreign-born criminal aliens returned by ICE to a particular country."
According to the Post, their analysis "found that during the Obama administration, the agency deported more than half the so-called stop-loss cases to Africa — and Eritrea in particular — than it did to the rest of the world combined."
Some congressional members have introduced a bill to ban use of the program by convicted criminals, in the form of pending SB913.
But not everyone is alarmed at the high number of deaths among deported migrants.
"What we're all concerned about, and I think [House Judiciary Chairman] Bob Goodlatte [R-Va.] is concerned about, is whether or not the [Secure Communities] program is working," the Washington Post quoted Kirsten Hayes, a spokeswoman for Goodlatte, as saying. "We'd like to see the evidence it's actually working, as opposed to the theory that it's successful. We don't think there is enough evidence that it is. We need to see it from the ground up to see whether or not it's actually leading to safer communities."
Requests for comment from Sen. Kaine were not immediately returned.
Check out Chris Geidner's Washingtonian section for more on the Secure Communities Program.