Obama Administration Cuts Interior Enforcement

Shortly before Christmas, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released a report detailing deportations (henceforth “removals”) conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) during fiscal year 2015.  Below I present the data on removals in historical context – combined with information from the Migration Policy Institute and Pew.  See my previous writing on this topic here, here, and here.       

ICE deported 69,473 unauthorized immigrants from the interior of the United States in 2015, down from a peak of 188,422 in 2011.  Removals from the interior are distinct from removals of recent border crossers.  Removals from the interior peaked during the Obama administration and have since fallen to a level similar to that of 2005 and 2006. 

Source: MPI and DHS.

The number of interior removals during the last six years of the Bush administration (the first two years are unavailable so far) was 475,103. The Obama administration has removed unauthorized immigrants about 1,019,637 from the interior of the United States during the seven full years of his administration.  

President Bush’s administration removed an average of about 276,000 unauthorized immigrants per year for the years available and an average of 79,000 of them annually were interior removals.  President Obama’s administration has removed an average of 381,101 unauthorized immigrants a year, an average of 145,662 of them annually were interior removals.  There were a large numbers of unknowns during the Bush administration that decreased as the years progressed. 

 

Source: MPI and DHS.

The Obama administration’s expansion then slashing of interior enforcement is not the whole story.  The best way to measure the intensity of immigration enforcement is to look at the percentage of the unauthorized immigrant population removed in each year.  Based on estimates of the total size of the unauthorized immigrant population that I updated to reflect Pew’s most recent estimates, 0.61 percent of that population was removed from the interior of the United States in 2015 – down from 0.9 percent in 2014.  Interior removals as a percent of the unathorized population peaked at 1.64 percent in 2011.  That is a substantial decrease in interior removals down from President Obama’s previous high. 

Source: MPI, Department of Homeland Security, Pew, Author’s Calculations.

For every year for which data was available, the Bush administration removed an average of 0.71 percent of the interior unauthorized immigrant population.  President Obama’s administration has removed an average of 1.29 percent of the interior unauthorized immigrant population every year of his presidency – less than twice the rate as under the Bush administration.  Even when focusing on interior removals, President Obama’s entire administration has out-deported President Bush based on the data available. 

The unauthorized immigrant population increased under the Bush administration from 9.4 million in 2001 to a peak of 12.2 million in 2007 and then declined to 11.7 million in 2008.  During Obama’s administration, the number of unauthorized immigrants has, so far, stayed at or below 11.5 million.   The slow economy during the Obama years as well as a shift of would-be unauthorized Mexican immigrants onto temporary work visas stopped the growth of the illegal population. 

Obama’s interior removal statistics show a downward trend beginning in 2012 through to 2015 with the number of interior removals falling by over 63 percent.  The Obama administration has also focused immigration enforcement on criminal offenders (not all unlawful immigrants are criminals).  During the Obama administration, 56.7 percent of all removals have been those convicted of a criminal offense, including immigration crimes.  In 2015, 92 percent of criminal removals were either priority 1 (threats to national security, border security, and public safety) or priority 2 (misdemeanants or new immigration violators).  Many of those “criminals” removed fit the strict legal definition of the word but hardly comport with the popular image of criminals.

Only the last year of the Bush administration is available for comparison but it shows that only 31 percent of those removed were criminals in 2008. 

The Obama administration has cut interior immigration enforcement down to the level of enforcement that existed from 2005 to 2006 but has refocused removal efforts to target criminals.  President Obama’s expansion of interior immigration enforcement effort that peaked in 2011 has reversed and is returning to Bush-era levels.