It is one of the Obama administration’s favorite talking points on immigration: It has been deporting illegal immigrants in record numbers. That bolsters its credentials on enforcement and supports the argument that, now that we’ve gotten tough on the border, it is time to enact comprehensive immigration reform.
But figures recently unearthed by a federal lawsuit in Texas cast serious doubt on the administration’s deportation claims. The number of deportations appears to have declined significantly during the president’s term in office.
Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies for the Center for Immigration Studies, has analyzed a set of largely unpublished official statistics on immigration-enforcement activity over the past five years. Earlier this month, Vaughan testified in court on behalf of a group of U.S. Immigration and Customs (ICE) agents who are suing the administration over its use of “prosecutorial discretion” in dictating how immigration law is enforced—or not enforced. The agents are seeking an injunction against a series of policy directives from ICE and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that were designed to regulate the extent to which ICE officers could initiate deportation proceedings for illegal immigrants in their custody.
In her testimony on April 8, Vaughan noted that, contrary to the administration’s claims, the number of illegal-immigrant removals has dropped 40 percent since June 2011, when ICE director John Morton issued the first of several directives outlining significant changes to the agency’s enforcement policies. “There has been a significant decline in enforcement activity as measured by the number of removals,” Vaughan says.
Deportations specifically of illegal immigrants convicted of a crime—individuals the administration says it has prioritized for removal—are similarly down, almost 40 percent since June 2011, Vaughan found. And that decline has occurred despite a significant increase in the number of illegal immigrants referred to ICE after being arrested for crimes. “There are certainly enough illegal aliens out there, especially enough criminal illegal aliens, that their numbers should be going up, not down,” Vaughan says. “So they appear to be giving a lot of free passes to people who are a public-safety problem, beyond the fact that they are here illegally.”
Removals generated by ICE’s Enforcement and Removals division, which is responsible for interior immigration enforcement, have decreased nearly 50 percent since June 2011. Vaughan says the administration has been inflating its deportation statistics by including a greater number of U.S. Border Patrol cases—illegal immigrants picked up at the border and subsequently referred to ICE—as part of its annual statistics. Border Patrol cases accounted for 56 percent of removals reported in fiscal year 2013, up from 33 percent in 2008. Typically, an individual apprehended at the southern border is simply returned to Mexico without being processed as a deportation by ICE.