Deportations have increased during the past decade, and the 396,906 illegal immigrants deported in fiscal year 2011, which ended Sept. 30, is the highest number yet, the department said in a report to be released Tuesday.
The Department of Homeland Security last year issued new priorities to focus deportations on convicted criminals, people who pose threats to national security and repeated border-jumpers, USA Today reported. Last year, 55 percent of those deported were convicted criminals.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton said the numbers reflect the Obama administration's "focus on sensible immigration."
"In the face of limited resources, we have to prioritize, and that starts with criminal offenders," Morton told USA Today. "We are making sure that people who game the system face the consequences."
Critics counter that the numbers show the administration is looking for ways for illegal immigrants to stay in the country. Obama has endorsed the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act -- also known as the DREAM Act -- that would have granted legal status to some children of illegal immigrants, but the bill failed in Congress.
Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, also questioned the refocus of deportations, arguing that it turn a blind eye to illegal immigrants who haven't committed major crimes.
"It's disappointing that the Obama administration continues to put illegal immigrants before the American people," Smith told USA Today. "We could free up millions of jobs for citizens and legal immigrants if we simply enforced our immigration laws."