The government forced more than 111,000 illegal immigrants to leave the country in the past year, the largest number in U.S. history. Almost half had criminal records.
Attorney General Janet Reno called it "a significant milestone." The deportations and other removals eclipsed the old record of 69,000 set in fiscal 1996.
Reno told a news conference that with continued support from Congress for expanded enforcement staff and more jails, "we can and will make America's streets and communities safer by deporting criminal aliens."
Three-quarters of those expelled were from Mexico.
While complimentary of the Immigration and Naturalization Service's improved performance in expelling undocumented immigrants, some agency observers cautioned that the numbers remain modest.
An estimated 5-million foreigners are living illegally in the United States, and their ranks swell by 275,000 each year.
"Certainly, the numbers are good news," said Rosemary Jenks of the Center for Immigration Studies, which frequently criticizes the agency's enforcement. But the deportations are "a very small drop in a huge bucket."