The Lies Behind Deportation Statistics

Democrat apologists are coming out of the woodwork to defend the Obama Administration’s deportation record.

After all, once you deport 2 million people, expand immigration enforcement, and preside over the largest immigration detention complex in the world, there is nothing stopping even the conservative National Council of La Raza from calling you ‘Deporter-in-Chief.’

The esteemed Julia Preston for the New York Times tells us that court deportations have dropped 43 percent in five years. There is a very simple explanation for why court deportations are down. It is because most people are being deported without ever even seeing a judge, through a process called expedited removal–a term that is so impersonal, but essentially means deportation. Preston paints a rosy picture of the deportation crisis by ignoring the reality that 75 percent of people removed from the country never even saw a judge. They were deported in the most inhumane way–without due process of law. Moreover, due to budget reasons, our immigration courts are so backlogged that many people languish in limbo for years–awaiting a final hearing–before they are deported. And many people in removal proceedings are lawyering up, which makes removal less likely through the immigration court system, and much more likely through the process of “expedited removals.”

The most creative attempt to make the President look good on deportations comes from the New Democrats Network (NDN). The NDN report plays on the legally-crafted distinction between removals and returns to say that Obama may be “removing” more people but is “returning” less than Bush:

The NDN report shows that removals under Obama’s administration have indeed increased, from a record low of 165,168 during the Bush administration in 2002 to a record high of 419,384 in 2012. However, the number of returns has plummeted — dropping sharply from 2008 to 2009, when Obama first took office, and declining steadily since. In 2001, there were 1,349,371 returns, but in 2012 there were only 229,968 — a drop of nearly 83 percent.

What’s the difference between removals and returns? Well, deportation is a rather harsh word, so lawmakers have opted to move away from it since 1996, and categorize deportations as “removals” and “returns.” Removals are actual deportations, and returns constitute voluntary departure. For the government, voluntary departure expedites and reduces the cost of removal. For the non-citizen, voluntary departure removes the stigma of deportation and allows a person more time to depart the country at her or his expense. Many times, non-citizens are actually forced into accepting voluntary departure, so the phrase is a euphemism in practice, and literally means deportation from the country, without the harsh legal consequences of removal.

The 2 million figure contains both removals and returns. However, as the NDN reports admits, Obama has presided over more removals than returns, which means people face harsher consequences if they are deported nowadays. The Immigration Policy Center confirms that the trend has been towards removal rather than return:

The end result is that the number of “removals” (deportations) has trended upward since the mid-1990s. Meanwhile, the number of apprehensions has fluctuated widely, primarily in response to changing economic conditions in the United States and Mexico, and nose-dived when the recession of late 2007 hit. The number of “voluntary returns” has tracked apprehensions closely. However, since 2005, voluntary return has been made available to fewer and fewer apprehended immigrants as deportation (with criminal consequences for re-entry into the country) becomes the preferred option of U.S. immigration authorities.

Another colleague, Anna Law, who is a professor at CUNY Law, penned “Lies, damned lies, and Obama’s deportation statistics” only to be somehow caught up in the web of lies. She concludes in her well-written article that Obama has emphasized returns over removals even though the statistics from ICE and the NDN report tell us otherwise. Law also appears to be downplaying the harmful impact of “expedited removals” by pointing out that “two-thirds of Obama’s overall expulsion numbers consist of returns of people who have previous final orders of removal and who are recently arriving entrants.”

Surprisingly, nowhere in the article does Law analyze that many of these “recently arriving entrants” who have final orders to leave the country actually have family members in the United States, and that “expedited removal” tears apart American families without due process of law. Law does not even mention how the Administration has steadily given more people criminal convictions for mere entry and re-entry such that immigration convictions account for the largest portion of federal convictions. In effect, the Obama Administration is increasingly criminalizing immigrants–giving us criminal records, locking us up in detention centers, and deporting more people who have such minor criminal records.

In conclusion, Obama has presided over more actual removals than former President George W. Bush, criminalized immigrant communities to prioritize us for removal, and in total, the number of returns and removals under his Administration surpasses 2 million.

This is all beside the point. Numbers can be skewed in many ways, and we’ll continue to see both conservatives and liberals spin numbers for political reasons. But numbers don’t tell us the real stories of how people across the country continue to suffer the devastating impact of immigration enforcement. Numbers are impersonal–they do not tell of the violence and terror done to our communities. It does not matter whether Obama or Bush deported more people–what matters is that actual people are suffering due to harsh enforcement programs carried out by the Executive Branch ranging from Operation Streamline to Secure Communities to the Criminal Alien Removal Initiative.

The President can change this, but thus far, he has refused to act. And so we continue the hunger strikes on his lawn, carry on with shutting down ICE, and do what we must to put the pressure where it belongs.

A Laundry List of What President Obama Can Do On Immigration

“There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.”
-Arundhati Roy

Ju Hong’s “yelling” to issue an executive order to stop deportations echoed across the country, and has sparked a series of actions mostly calling on the President to use his executive authority to stop deportations. Over 500 national organizations (and growing), including the Mexican American Legal and Education Defense Fund, United We DREAM, the National Day Labor Organizing Network and AFL-CIO, have signed on to a letter asking the President to exercise discretion in stopping his deportations. Even House Democrats joined the chorus yesterday, with 29 House Democrats signing a letter to the President to suspend deportations and expand DACA:

If your child has received DACA, you should not be deported. If you qualify for legalization under the Senate bill — a bill the President and the rest of the country supports — you should not be deported. We cannot continue to witness potential citizens in our districts go through the anguish of deportation when legalization could be just around the corner for them. We look to you to firmly contribute to advancing inclusion for immigrants by suspending deportations and expanding DACA.

President Barack Obama said during a trip to New Orleans, “We should be fighting to make sure everybody who works hard in America, and hard right here in New Orleans, that they have a chance to get ahead.” However, instead of trying to reduce deportations, the Obama Administration is piloting a new, unprecedented and extraordinarily harsh effort to hunt down and deport thousands of hardworking undocumented immigrants in New Orleans.

The Obama Administration’s hypocrisy on immigration knows no limits. Instead of taking action, the President would rather hide behind the “rule of law” discourse, and pretend that he doesn’t have power to do anything. Invoking the “rule of law” is not only disingenuous but dangerous because it is used to quell the demands of the lesser privileged for real, tangible, social change. President Obama says he can’t stop deportations because it isn’t within his powers. Yet, he finds it within his power to carry out mass surveillance, drone attacks, topple regimes, and order extra-judicial killings.

However, short of placing a moratorium on deportations, there are many things the Administration can do to relief the pressure on immigrant families across the country that are well within executive powers. These include:

  • Detention: Redefine “in custody” as inclusive of ankle-monitoring programs, in order to let people–62 percent of whom have no criminal records–out of detention;
  • Enforce existing memos that allow for parole of asylum seekers who have passed their credible fear interviews;
  • Stop the Department of Justice (DOJ) assault against undocumented law school graduates such as Sergio Garcia, Caesar Vargas, and so on;
  • Issue “Notice to Appear in Removal Proceedings” only in the most severe criminal cases, which would reduce the immigration court docket over time by more than 60 percent;
  • Work on crafting a narrower definition of “aggravated felon” — a catch-all phrase that now includes both serial rapists and lawful permanent residents who have committed non-violent crimes in the past;
  • Put an end to Secure Communities (S-COMM), an administrative deportation program that targets persons with minor criminal records, and has led to the ICE detention of over 3000 U.S. citizens;
  • Roll back new harsh effort “Criminal Alien Removal Initiative”;
  • Pardon prior re-entry;
  • Expand Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) to cover all childhood arrivals rather than place an arbitrary age cap;
  • Stop assault on lawful permanent resident parents by giving full meaning to the Child Status Protection Act so that thousands of young people, including many Dreamers, can finally reunite with their parents.

And the list goes on. This week, a judge ruled that the President’s uncle, Omar Obama, could stay in the U.S.

But justice is nowhere in sight for those of us with no ties to the President, our deporter-in-chief.