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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.