Responding to a Washington Post/CIR story about government quotas to deport more illegal immigrants, the head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement distanced the agency from a memo sent last month by a top deportation official.

“Significant portions of the memo cited in The Washington Post (3/27/10 – Becker/Hsu) did not reflect our policies, was sent without my authorization, and has since been withdrawn and corrected,” John Morton, assistant secretary for ICE, said in a statement released Saturday. “We are strongly committed to carrying out our priorities to remove serious criminal offenders first and we definitively do not set quotas.”

Morton convened a meeting today with immigration advocates seeking input on the issue.

Based on emails, memos and other documents obtained by CIR, The Post story reported that ICE was scrambling to meet its goal of removing 400,000 illegal immigrants this year. In doing so, officials had stepped back from a pledge to focus on deporting illegal immigrants who are dangerous or have violent criminal backgrounds.

From Morton’s statement:

ICE is required by Congress to submit annual performance goals as part of the budgetary process and our longstanding focus remains on smart, effective immigration enforcement that places priority first on those dangerous criminal aliens who present risk to the security of our communities.

This focus has yielded real results – between FY2008 and FY2009, criminal deportations increased by 19% and this priority continues in FY10 with 40% more criminal aliens removed to date as compared to the same period last year.

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Andrew Becker is a reporter for Reveal, covering border, national and homeland security issues, as well as weapons and gun trafficking. He has focused on waste, fraud and abuse – with stories ranging from border corruption to the expanding use of drones and unmanned aerial vehicles, from the militarization of police to the intersection of politics and policy related to immigration, from terrorism to drug trafficking. Becker's reporting has appeared in The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Newsweek/The Daily Beast and on National Public Radio and PBS/FRONTLINE, among others. He received a master's degree in journalism from UC Berkeley. Becker is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.