The Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee is charging that the Obama administration has “falsified” deportation records to artificially boost numbers — a move critics of the Homeland Security Department have long suspected.
Rep. Lamar Smith, the Texan who runs the committee, said the Obama administration has for the past several years been mixing some Border Patrol apprehensions with the deportation statistics from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency chiefly responsible for interior enforcement and for deporting aliens.
His investigation found that when the Border Patrol numbers are subtracted, deportations actually have gone down every year since Mr. Obama first took office in 2009, dropping from about 395,000 that year to about 330,000 in 2011.
And 2012 is shaping up to have even fewer deportations once the Border Patrol figures are subtracted, the committee said.
“It is dishonest to count illegal immigrants apprehended by the Border Patrol along the border as ICE removals,” Mr. Smith said. “These ‘removals’ from the Border Patrol program do not subject the illegal immigrant to any penalties or bars for returning to the U.S. This means a single illegal immigrant can show up at the border and be removed numerous times in a single year — and counted each time as a removal.”
ICE did not directly dispute Mr. Smith’s claim but defended its enforcement strategy.
“The administration’s immigration enforcement strategy is focused on enhancing public safety, border security and the integrity of the immigration system,” said spokesman Ross Feinstein, adding that the administration’s prioritization has boosted the number of criminals being deported and has led to a drop in the number of illegal immigrants trying to cross the border in the first place.
“These historic results reflect the success of the administration’s strategy and are attributable, in part, to the unprecedented support ICE is providing to the Border Patrol along the southwest border. The combined efforts of ICE and [U.S. Customs and Border Protection] have created the most effective immigration enforcement effort in recent history,” he said.
The Border Patrol and ICE are the two chief immigration law enforcement branches of the federal government.
Border Patrol agents’ jurisdiction runs along the nation’s international boundaries, and many of the illegal immigrants they apprehend are returned — usually straight to Mexico — rather than put in formal removal proceedings. That is called a voluntary return, and it carries none of the penalties associated with formal deportation, which critics say means there is little risk to turning around and trying to re-enter the U.S. illegally again.
ICE, meanwhile, generally handles removals, which are more formal proceedings complete with potential penalties.
Mr. Smith’s committee obtained documents that show 72,000 people caught by the Border Patrol and sent to ICE under the Border Patrol’s Alien Transfer Exit Program are being included in the ICE statistics. Administration officials told the committee they have been including those numbers in their official count since 2011.
The Obama administration has been trying to walk a fine line between those who want to see more deportations and immigrant-advocacy groups that say deportations should he halted altogether.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet A. Napolitano has said that her department only has the resources to deport about 400,000 aliens a year, and she uses that limit to justify the administration’s policy that rank-and-file illegal immigrants without major criminal records shouldn’t be a priority for deportation.
Republicans, though, say the administration is turning a blind eye to most illegal immigrants, enacting de facto amnesty.