Obama: Deportation Numbers 'Actually a Little Deceptive'

According to President Obama, the allegedly record-breaking deportation numbers released this week by ICE Director John Morton are "a little deceptive." I agree. They give the impression that this administration is enforcing the law more than, say, the previous administration. But other ICE numbers suggest that immigration enforcement is declining, not increasing.

Speaking about the year-end deportation figures to a group of Hispanic reporters in late September, the President said:

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.

This book-cooking was reported last year too. As the president said, one way that DHS pumps its numbers is to count those caught at the border and returned quickly. I don't have a problem with that, if these aliens are actually processed as a removal, and as long as the agency provides a breakdown of the numbers so that anyone can see the various types of enforcement that are being counted. But DHS and ICE public affairs personnel do not make that available; nor do they provide any breakdown of how the aliens were identified (e.g. Secure Communities vs. worksite – oh wait, I forgot, there are no more worksite operations), or which type of removal tool was used, i.e. expedited removal, voluntary departure or return, stipulated removal, etc. (See my colleague W.D. Reasoner's "Deportation Basics: How Immigration Enforcement Works (or Doesn’t) in Real Life".)

What I do have a problem with is the implication from Morton that this very modest increase in removals is somehow the result of tough enforcement in the interior of the country, or that ICE is making "progress".

Statistics on ICE arrests tell a different story. According to the annual report from the Office of Immigration Statistics, ICE is arresting far fewer people in the interior than ever before. The latest statistics shows that in 2010, ICE located fewer than half the number of deportable aliens in 2010 than they did in 2006 (517,000, down from 1.2 million).

Arrest numbers also have been dropping for quite some time. In 2006, the combined efforts of the Investigations and the Detention and Removal divisions resulted in 117,000 alien arrests, which dropped to 68,000 in 2008 and down to 54,000 in 2010. This is "progress" only if you are not in favor of immigration law enforcement. Not only has ICE shifted its focus nearly exclusively to removing illegal aliens who commit other crimes, it has reduced the overall level of enforcement within the country, where the 11 million illegal aliens are living and working and affecting the well-being of American communities.

For more on how ICE is doing less with more, watch members of the House Immigration Policy and Enforcement Sub-committee grill John Morton at an oversight hearing on October 13, 2010.