From the press release:
In FY2013, ICE conducted a total of 368,644 removals, 235,093 of whom were apprehended while, or shortly after, attempting to illegally enter the United States, and 133,551 of whom were apprehended in the interior of the United States. Nearly 60 percent of ICE’s total removals had been previously convicted of a criminal offense, and that number rises to 82 percent for individuals removed from the interior of the U.S. Other than convicted criminals, the agency’s enforcement priorities include: those apprehended while attempting to unlawfully enter the United States, illegal re-entrants – individuals who returned to the U.S. after being previously removed by ICE – and immigration fugitives.
My friend and colleague Chuck Kuck had the following reaction to the numbers: "Obama only deported 350,000 people last year. Somehow this is something to celebrate?" Pretty much sums it up for me.
But there is more to the story. Anyone paying attention knows that the administration has ramped up criminal prosecutions of immigrants charged with immigration law crimes. In fact, according to Syracuse University's TRAC Immigration, illegal reentry prosecutions have jumped 76% during the Obama administration, and the 100,000 prosecutions mark is at an all-time high. Another record setting performance for the Deporter-in-Chief. What this means is that the administration is turning individuals into convicted criminals when their only criminal infraction stems from an immigration law violation. This clearly has resulted in a padding of the criminal removal statistics.
As for the claim that ICE is enforcing our nation’s laws in a smart and effective way, TRAC has already done the heavy lifting for us. They found that very few ICE detainers involve serious criminals. TRAC determined that "if traffic violations (including driving while intoxicated) and marijuana possession are put aside, fully two thirds of all detainers had no record of a conviction. Statistics show that through November 2013, only a small proportion of the deportation filings are based on alleged criminal activity.
Here is a sample of some of the other reactions I've seen to the recent release:
From the ACLU:
Despite broad consensus that the nation needs immigration reform, the Obama administration is barreling towards the dubious honor of hitting a record 2 million deportations by early next year. Today’s numbers show that ICE continues to sweep tens of thousands of immigrants into a detention and deportation machine that lacks basic due process protections, including the dignity of an appearance before a judge. The Department of Homeland Security should sharpen its enforcement priorities and strengthen due process protections for immigrants in removal proceedings.
Ali Noorani, Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum:
ICE is still removing people with no criminal record who are just trying to build a life in America — including tens of thousands this past year. These numbers highlight the urgency for broad immigration reform from Congress that stresses accountability and moves our country forward. In 2014, leaders simply must follow through on a new immigration process that emphasizes security, freedom, opportunity and human dignity.
America's Voice was not so diplomatic in their response, calling the Obama administration "sickening."
There is a huge gap between what they say and what they do. DHS announced prosecutorial discretion policies in 2011 aimed at focusing deportation on the ‘worst of the worst,’ and yet these policies have never been fully implemented. They claim that most of those being deported are ‘convicted criminals’ – a scary label until you realize that their own definitions of ‘convicted criminals’ include traffic violations and minor nuisance offenses (see here and here). They claim that the only answer is legislation – which really is the best and most permanent solution – but refuse to simultaneously use their substantial administrative authority to rein in the out-of-control detention and deportation machinery. The time is now for the Administration to do its part to stop deporting people who are anything but ‘criminals’ and have deep roots and make huge contributions to the country they now call home.
"People on all sides will look at these numbers with a great deal of skepticism. 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. These numbers may represent political calculus for the beltway but for immigrant families, they represent our parents, siblings, and loved ones,” explains Pablo Alvarado, Executive Director. “The five years of criminalization the President has overseen blankets immigrant communities with suspicion and causes people to live in fear. Until the historic mistake of entwining local police with immigration enforcement is corrected, the country will face a crisis of safety in our communities, confidence in the President, and separation in our families."
It is obvious to everyone other than those drinking from a Big Gulp sized cool-aide that the administration's recent release is little more than propaganda and public relations spin to address the negative publicity that is finally raining down on the President.
Better late than never.