Both sides of the immigration debate were quick to criticize the latest removal numbers released Thursday by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that reveal the agency deported 368,644 people in fiscal year 2013.
Advocates are not happy with the numbers, saying undocumented immigrants who pose no threat to national security or community safety continue to be deported and separated from their families. At the same time, immigration hardliners are criticizing the Obama administration for deporting about 41,200 fewer people than last fiscal year when a total of 409,849 people were deported.
The number of removals this year brings the total number of people who’ve been deported during the five years that President Barack Obama has been in office to nearly 2 million. The number of deportations during the eight years of George W. Bush presidency reached 2 million.
Of the 368,644 people who were deported this year, there were 235,093 people who were apprehended while, or shortly after, attempting to enter the United States illegally. Another 133,551 people were apprehended inside the U.S. And nearly 60 percent of the total removals had been previously convicted of a criminal offense.
“The FY2013 numbers make clear that we are enforcing our nation’s laws in a smart and effective way, meeting our enforcement priorities by focusing on convicted criminals while also continuing to secure our nation’s borders in partnership with CBP,” stated ICE Acting Director John Sandweg. “Ninety eight percent of those removed in the last year met one of our key priorities – a record high and a testament to the men and women of ICE who are helping to implement a strong and focused immigration enforcement strategy.”
Reaction to latest removal numbers
Immigrant rights advocates and immigration hardliners alike are looking at the latest removal numbers with a lot of skepticism.
Advocates like Pablo Alvarado, executive director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, question whether the Obama administration is focusing on going after those who pose a threat to the U.S.
“It’s easy for the Administration to say that those deported fit their priorities when this White House has practically made sneezing a criminal act for immigrants,” Alvarado said in a statement. “These numbers may represent political calculus for the beltway but for immigrant families, they represent our parents, siblings, and loved ones.”
His group has spent the last few months calling on Obama to halt deportations. They’ve held a series of civil disobedience actions in various states, with advocates blocking detention centers and even chaining themselves to the gates of the White House to protest deportations.
Don Lyster of the National Immigration Law Center noted that the “moderate drop in deportations has not been matched by a drop in spending on detentions and deportations of future citizens.”
“This year, the federal government is spending $18 billion on efforts to find, detain, and deport immigrants, resources that could be better spent on educating our children or restoring access to safety-net programs,” he stated.
Lyster also called on the Obama administration to “use its existing authority to stop deporting aspiring citizens every day and leaving a separated and heartbroken family in each deportation’s wake.”
Meanwhile, House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia criticized the decrease in removals and described the latest numbers as “more evidence that the Obama Administration refuses to enforce our immigration laws.”
“Throughout the past five years, President Obama has sought to undermine and dismantle our immigration laws at every opportunity possible,” Goodlatte said in a statement. “And the results of this comprehensive plan are revealed in this year’s removal statistics: deportations are down and fewer criminals have been deported. And the Administration is padding its already meager removal numbers by including Border Patrol apprehensions.”
The Republican congressman added that while that nation’s immigration laws need reforming, “ignoring the current laws on the books is not constructive to fixing our broken system.”
The latest deportation numbers come amid debate in Congress over how to reform the nation’s immigration laws and what to do with the 11.7 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S. They also come as Republicans insist on tougher border security and interior enforcement and as more Democrats join with immigration reform advocates in asking Obama to curve the number of deportations.