For years the Obama administration has used creative accounting and selective deportation statistics to boost the president's image as an executive dedicated to enforcing Congress' immigration laws. The claim is that Obama had a stronger deportation record than his predecessors. The tactic is part of a strategy to convince the enforcement-first crowd that illegal immigration is a thing of the past and the goal is to pave the way for a mass legalization and doubling of immigration. Five years later, however, the only people convinced by Obama's "record deportations" claim are immigration reporters and anti-enforcement advocates who are now using it to criticize him in the run-up to the midterm elections.
Obama has actually done more than any president in decades to limit deportations for people who successfully cross the border illegally or violate the terms of their visas. Deportations from the interior (what most people think of when they hear "deportation") have declined by 40 percent since Obama took office. Total deportations (both interior and border removals and returns) are well behind the pace of the Clinton and Bush administrations.
The Department of Homeland Security's Yearbook of Immigration Statistics publishes a table of total deportations titled "Aliens Removed or Returned: Fiscal Years 1892 to 2012" and defines "removals" and "returns" like this:
- "Removals are the compulsory and confirmed movement of an inadmissible or deportable alien out of the United States based on an order of removal. An alien who is removed has administrative or criminal consequences placed on subsequent reentry owing to the fact of the removal."
- "Returns are the confirmed movement of an inadmissible or deportable alien out of the United States not based on an order of removal."
To make it's "record deportations" claim, the administration takes cases that would have previously been counted as "returns" and counts them as "removals." Then, they compare only their removals to the number of removals under previous administrations. Separately, they point to the lower number of returns as evidence that the border is "more secure than ever." The strategy is ingenious: (1) claim "record deportations" while actually reducing them; (2) Get the media to repeat the claim so often that even skeptics accept it as fact; and (3) Use the conventional wisdom to provide enough political cover to pass an amnesty for all of the people you implied you were deporting.
President Obama should be a hero to open-border activists! Yet according to Politico, National Council of La Raza President Janet Murguia has joined other anti-deportation advocates in calling Obama "The Deporter in Chief."
Whaaat? Didn't they get the memo?
Obama has tried to clarify his administration's deportation rhetoric with select audiences since at least 2011 when, according to the Washington Times, Obama told a roundtable of Hispanic reporters:
"The statistics are actually a little deceptive because what we’ve been doing is, with the stronger border enforcement, we’ve been apprehending folks at the borders and sending them back. That is counted as a deportation, even though they may have only been held for a day or 48 hours, sent back -- that’s counted as a deportation."
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) confirms Obama's explanation. In Fiscal Year 2013, nearly two-thirds of removals were "individuals apprehended along our borders while attempting to unlawfully enter the U.S." Further analysis of government statistics by Jessica Vaughan of the Center for Immigration studies found that more than half of all removals under Obama are people caught at the border and briefly put in ICE custody before being returned to their countries.
Obama privately calls his own administration's statistics "a little deceptive." The statistics demonstrate why. But immigration reporters repeat the White House's cherry-picked and inflated statistics and groups like the National Council of La Raza use them to criticize President Obama.
Obama's gambit hasn't paid off.*** People who give him credit for his actual deportation record aren't happy with him, and neither are those who fall for his deception.
***Or maybe it has. Obama may exploit the criticism from the anti-enforcement advocates and use that to push through another administrative amnesty (or threaten House Republicans with one). As long as reporters keep his creative accounting under wraps, the "Deporter in Chief" can spin his new title any way he likes.
UPDATE: Since the posting of this blog, Department of Homeland Security chief Jeh Johnson confirmed that deportations under Obama are mostly made up of border apprehensions and cannot be compared to statistics under previous administrations. The Washington Times has the story: "Deportations come mostly from border, DHS chief says."
JEREMY BECK is the Director of the Media Standards Project for NumbersUSA
Updated: Wed, Mar 12th 2014 @ 11:15am EDT
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