The U.S. government deported a record 396,000 people in the 2011 fiscal year, Immigration and Customs Enforcement said Tuesday.

Almost 55 percent of the foreigners deported, 216,698 people, were individuals with criminal records, ICE said in a communique.

"These year-end totals indicate that we are making progress, with more convicted criminals, recent border crossers, egregious immigration law violators and immigration fugitives being removed from the country than ever before," ICE Director John Morton said.

ICE data for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30 signifies that President Barack Obama's administration deported in 2011 some 27,000 more people than were expelled in the final year under Republican predecessor George W. Bush.

Of the 216,698 people deported because they were convicted of crimes, 44,600 were sentenced for drug-related crimes, 35,927 for drunk driving, 5,848 for sexual offenses and 1,119 for homicide.

Tuesday's announcement has sparked criticism from groups that defend immigrants' rights.

"They're locking up innocent people in Obama's jails, thousands and thousands of people who have committed no crimes, immigrants who have committed traffic violations or who called the police to report a crime," Roberto Lobato, an organizer of protests underway in a dozen cities, told Efe from San Francisco.

Lobato, of the group Presente. org, mentioned the cases of two women, one in San Francisco and the other in Houston, who called the police as victims of domestic violence and as a result were detained and are in the process of deportation.

According to Lobato, "Obama's deportation policy is criminal, they (the authorities) are creating the crimes. 'Criminal' used to mean something real - a murderer, a rapist, someone who was a danger to society."

The activist added that "the Obama government exposes immigrants, mostly Latinos, to deplorable, dehumanizing treatment."

The administration had won the applause of defenders of immigrants in August and the reproach of those backing anti-immigrant policies when he announced he would give priority to deporting people who had committed serious crimes or who represented a threat to the national security of the United States.

"Ninety percent of all ICE's removals fell into a priority category and more than two-thirds of the other removals in 2011 were either recent border crossers or repeat immigration violators," the agency said Tuesday.