The Department of Homeland Security’s review of deportation policy comes as the government’s own numbers show that sending illegal immigrants to their home country is at its lowest point since the 1970s. That stands in direct conflict to claims Obama touts regarding deportations.
The “numbers are juiced up,” said Jessica Vaughn, director of policy studies for the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank that favors strict enforcement.
“The kind of enforcement actions the activists are complaining about are arresting people and separating families,” Vaughn told TheBlaze. “The complaints were about things rarely happening. The administration can turn around and use this as an excuse to suppress enforcement. He has asked for a review, which probably means further suppression. It’s a phony crisis used to make a policy change.”
President Barack Obama has touted the administration’s record of high deportations compared to previous administrations. Meanwhile, activists for illegal immigrants have ridiculed the president as the “deporter-in-chief.”
After Obama met with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Thursday, The White House announced, “he has asked Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson to do an inventory of the department’s current practices to see how it can conduct enforcement more humanely within the confines of the law.”
The boast about immigration is questionable on two fronts. First, the administration’s claim relies on the strictest legal definition of deportation that factors in only a portion of undocumented immigrants sent home every year. Second, the administration in 2009 changed the metric for measuring even that legal definition. For this, it’s important to understand Homeland Security’s distinction between “removals” and “returns.”
“Most people think of deportation is sending someone out of the country,” Vaughn said. “If you count the number of people sent out of the country, it’s not even close to a record. It’s the lowest since the 1970s.”
On June 11, 2013, Obama said, “We focused our enforcement efforts on criminals who are here illegally and who are endangering our communities. And today, deportation of criminals is at its highest level ever.”
He has been heckled about deportations at various events.
And much of the media has adopted the talking point. The New York Times reported in December, “Since taking office, President Obama has deported more than 1.9 million foreigners, immigration officials announced last week, a record for an American president.”
The Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, published by the Department of Homeland Security shows that removals were up to 419,384 in 2012, the last year of Obama’s first term from the 359,795 removals in 2008, the final year of the Bush administration. However, returns were down significantly to 229,968 in 2012 from 811,263 in 2008 (See Table 39).
Removals are the “compulsory and confirmed movement of an inadmissible alien out of the United States based on an order of removal,” according to DHS. “An alien who is removed has administrative or criminal consequences placed on subsequent reentry owing to the fact of removal.”
The DHS defines returns as “the confirmed movement of an inadmissible or deportable alien out of the United States not based on an order of removal.”
Returns were generally how the public measured deportations under previous administrations.
Total deportations – returns and removals—under Obama were 3.2 million in its first term, or an average of 800,000 per year, according to the Center for Immigration Studies. The Bush administration returned and removed 10.3 million over two terms, or an average of 1.3 million per year. The Clinton administration sent back 12.3 million over eight years, averaging about 1.5 million per year.
But even achieving those numbers took a change in the metrics for the Obama administration.
What’s different about the Obama administration’s metric from previous administrations is that the increased number of removals factors in all apprehensions of people trying to illegally cross the border. More than half of those counted as removals were captured at the border by U.S. Border Patrol and handed over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Vaughn explained. Previous administrations only counted deportations as the removal or return of illegal immigrants already in the interior of the country. This doesn’t fit the narrative of people being pulled from their families, Vaughn said.
Removals, which are based on specific orders, have been on an either steady increase or nominal decline since 1970, when the number was at 17,469. In 1997 removals leaped to 114,432, about double what they were the previous year. There was generally a steady increase each year after that.
Returns dropped significantly in the mid-1950s and early 1960s, but in 1963 began increasing at a rapid rate reaching 303,348 in 1970, up from 52,796 in 1960. While removals in the 1970s peaked at 38,000 in 1976, returns never dropped below 300,000, and peaked at 975,515 in 1978. During the 1980s, returns peaked at 1.5 million in 1986, but dropped slightly thereafter, but removals never reached higher than 34,427 during the decade.
In the 1990s, there were more than 1 million returns every year. Removals peaked at 183,114 in 1999.
In the first six years of the Bush administration, returns only dropped below 1 million once – to 945,294 in 2003. Returns were more than 800,000 and removals were more than 300,000 in 2007 and 2008. However, after Obama’s first year of 2009 returns dropped below 600,000 and declined by more than 100,000 each year after.