A record number of people were deported from the U.S. during Obama's tenure as President.
During the third and final presidential debate on 19 October 2016, Republican nominee Donald Trump remarked that President Barack Obama “has moved millions of people out … millions of people have been moved out of this country.” As of 2015, more than 2.5 million undocumented people had been deported by immigration authorities since President Obama took office in 2009, a total which is indeed record-setting. During the two terms of his predecessor, President George W. Bush, just over 2 million people were deported.
The trend seems to be abating, with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announcing efforts to “prioritize convicted criminals and threats to public safety, border security, and national security.” But if 2013 was the record-setting year with 435,498 deportations, 2015 saw the lowest numbers in a decade according to that agency:
ICE removed or returned 235,413 individuals…with 86 percent of these individuals considered a ‘top priority’ (Priority One) — those considered border security or public safety threats.
According to data provided by ICE dating back to 1892, annual deportations jumped into the hundred-thousands in 1997, when the U.S. deported 114,432 people. Just one year earlier, the U.S. had deported only 69,680 people.
According to the non-profit immigrant advocacy group American Immigration Council, the trend in growing deportation numbers long preceded Barack Obama’s presidency:
The federal government has, for nearly two decades, been pursuing an enforcement-first approach to immigration control that favors mandatory detention and deportation over the traditional discretion of a judge to consider the unique circumstances of every case. The end result has been a relentless campaign of imprisonment and expulsion aimed at noncitizens — a campaign authorized by Congress and implemented by the executive branch. While this campaign precedes the Obama administration by many years, it has grown immensely during his tenure in the White House.
The trend can be traced back to the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IIRCA) of 1986, “which encouraged the initiation of deportation proceedings against any immigrant convicted of a deportable offense. Since that time, a stream of punitive legislation has eaten away at the traditional discretion of judges to grant relief from deportation in particular cases.”
According to the Pew Research Center, other variables have played into the climbing rate of deportations during Barack Obama’s presidency, including higher rates of apprehension by Border Patrol agents:
One distinct feature of the record number of deportations is the increasing share of deportations by U.S. Customs and Border Protection after border apprehension. In 2013, 25% of all deportations were carried out by the agency, up from 17% in 2012. Meanwhile, the number of deportations carried out by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which deports people caught both at the border and the interior of the country, fell in 2013 compared with 2012.
This rise in the number of deportations also coincides with stalled growth of the U.S. unauthorized immigrant population since 2009, and a more recent rise in the number of apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border. In 2013, there were 414,000 apprehensions at the southwest border, a rise of 27% over 2011 (the most recent low in apprehensions).
The Border Patrol’s budget has expanded from $5.9 billion 2003 to $11.9 billion in 2013, while ICE’s grew from $3.3 billion to $5.9 billion. As of 2013, the two agencies had a total budget of nearly $18 billion, and that number increased to nearly $20 billion in 2016.
Another factor for the increase in deportations during Obama’s terms comes from legislation that has become known as a “bed mandate” or “bed quota:”
The bed quota requires U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to hold an average of 34,000 individuals in detention on a daily basis. This quota has steadily increased since its establishment in 2009. No other law enforcement agency is subject to a statutory quota on the number of individuals to hold in detention.
The bed quota prevents ICE from exercising discretion and expanding more efficient alternatives to detention (ATD) that would allow individuals who pose no risk to public safety to be released back to their families while awaiting immigration court hearings.
The Washington Post described how ICE has maintained that average of 34,000 individuals in detention and how the practice has affected the number of deportations:
The policy requires U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to keep an average of 34,000 detainees per day in its custody, a quota that has steadily risen since it was established in 2006 by conservative lawmakers who insisted that the agency wasn’t doing enough to deport unlawful immigrants.
But as illegal crossings from Mexico have fallen to near their lowest levels since the early 1970s, ICE has been meeting Congress’s immigration detention goals by reaching deeper into the criminal justice system to vacuum up foreign-born, legal U.S. residents convicted of any crimes that could render them eligible for deportation. The agency also has greatly expanded the number of undocumented immigrants it takes into custody after traffic stops by local police.
The American Immigration Council explained how recent trends toward combining the duties of local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities also contributed, with programs such as the now-discontinued Secure Communities and 287(g):
Secure Communities, which was created in 2008, is an information-sharing program between DHS and the Department of Justice. The program uses biometric data to screen for deportable immigrants as people are being booked into jails. Under Secure Communities, an arrestee’s fingerprints are run not only against criminal databases, but immigration databases as well. If there is an immigration “hit,” ICE can issue a “detainer” requesting that the jail hold the person in question until ICE can pick him up.
Under Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, DHS may deputize selected state and local law-enforcement officers to perform the functions of federal immigration agents. Like employees of ICE, these “287(g) officers” have access to federal immigration databases, may interrogate and arrest noncitizens believed to have violated federal immigration laws, and may lodge “detainers” against alleged noncitizens held in state or local custody.
Secure Communities was replaced by the Priority Enforcement Program, which prioritizes “threats to national security, public safety, and border security.”
In the 105 years between 1892 and 1997, the U.S. deported 2.1 million people — meaning that under presidents Bush and Obama, the number of people deported by the U.S. in the course of a century was more than doubled in just 16 years of consecutive presidencies.