President Obama Is Still the Deporter-In-Chief

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) released figures showing that they deported fewer people during FY2013 than any year since FY2008 –368,644.  But that number is still higher than at any time during the Bush administration despite the unauthorized immigrant population peaking in 2007.  Just eyeballing the bottom graph confirms that the level of deportations is largely explained by the size of the unauthorized immigrant population (R-Squared=.813).  The more unauthorized immigrants there were, the higher the number of deportations.    

 

Source:  Department of Homeland Security and author’s estimate. 

 So how does Obama’s enforcement record compare to the years before he took office?  Is he under-enforcing or over-enforcing immigration laws relative to what we’d expect given the size of the unauthorized immigrant population?

President Obama is over-enforcing immigration laws.  During his administration a yearly average of 3.37 percent of all unauthorized immigrants have been deported every year compared to just 2.3 percent during President George W. Bush’s administration.  It is true that deportation as a percent of the unauthorized immigrant population have slackened in 2013 but that is still above any year during the Bush administration.

Year

Percent Deported

1995

0.89%

1996

1.11%

1997

1.68%

1998

2.41%

1999

2.32%

2000

2.19%

2001

2.01%

2002

1.70%

2003

2.09%

2004

2.25%

2005

2.22%

2006

2.42%

2007

2.62%

2008

3.08%

2009

3.48%

2010

3.38%

2011

3.41%

2012

3.50%

2013

3.11%

   

 

Source: Department of Homeland Security, Pew, and author’s estimate.

Shifting subjects a bit, these deportation numbers point to just how effective immigration enforcement is.  There are only 11.7 million unauthorized immigrants in the United States – an admittedly large number – but much smaller than I would expect given the tremendous economic gains from coming here.  Measured in that way, most would-be unauthorized immigrants actually follow our laws.

Last June I wrote a post where I was shocked at just how low the total number of unauthorized immigrants is.  Here is an updated chart from that post using data that is more specific to the characteristics of the immigrants themselves and the skilled-specific occupations they’re most likely to have in the United States.  

Source Country

Smuggling Cost

Median Earnings, US Full Time

Income in Home Country

Wage Gain

1st Year Wage Gain/Smuggling

Brazil

$16,000

$24,565

$6,302

$18,263

1.14

Haiti

$1,500

$17,909

$1,690

$16,219

10.81

India

$60,000

$24,654

$3,684

$20,970

0.35

Mexico

$9,000

$19,386

$6,971

$12,415

1.38

Source: 2011 American Community Survey, DHS, Havocscope, Center for Global Development   

Our immigration laws are terribly restrictive, do great harm to immigrants and Americans, and are responsible for creating such a large unauthorized immigrant population in the United States.  But immigration laws, unlike most other laws, are intended to regulate foreigners more than Americans, so just examining the number of unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. is not a good measure of how well-followed or enforced these laws are.  Given the number of people who want to immigrate here, the relatively low price of coming here illegally, and the tremendous economic gains from doing so, our immigration laws are shockingly well-enforced and followed by most people of the world.