The Obama administration deported its 2 millionth immigrant sometime Wednesday, according to projections by The Washington Times that also showed agents are on pace this year to remove the fewest number of immigrants of President Obama’s tenure.
That slower pace contrasts with the president’s argument that he is enforcing the law to the fullest extent possible by targeting criminals and recent border crossers.
From Oct. 1 through March 8 — more than five months into the fiscal year — U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement removed 129,361 people. That works out to an average of about 814 deportations a day.
ICE was removing 1,010 people a day in the first five months of fiscal 2013 and 1,020 in those months of fiscal 2012. That means the pace is down 20 percent from 2012, when the administration set its deportation record.
If the rate holds, the administration will remove about 325,000 immigrants this year, well below the 400,000 that Homeland Security officials have said they have the budget to handle.
ICE officials wouldn’t answer questions about the drop in deportations. Instead, the agency said it is enforcing the law in line with policy memos the Homeland Security Department has issued that protect many illegal immigrants from deportation.
“While we continue to work with Congress to enact commonsense immigration reform, ICE remains committed to sensible, effective immigration enforcement that focuses on its priorities, including convicted criminals and those apprehended at the border while attempting to unlawfully enter the United States,” said Nicole Navas, a spokeswoman for ICE.
The number of deportations has been a thorny topic for Mr. Obama, who is under fire from both sides of the immigration debate. Immigrant rights activists argue that the administration is deporting too many people, including those without serious criminal records, while advocates of a crackdown say the books have been cooked to boost deportation numbers.
Both sides may be correct.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson acknowledged to Congress this year that the administration’s numbers include a large number of people caught at the border by U.S. Border Patrol agents. Previous administrations didn’t count those as deportations.
Subtracting border deportations, ICE removed fewer than 150,000 people who were in the U.S. illegally last year. That was the lowest number since 1997, when the Immigration and Naturalization Service deported 111,794.
Of those removed, an increasing number appear to have no criminal convictions but are recent arrivals picked up by Border Patrol agents for having crossed the border illegally.
The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse said 12 percent of those deported in 2013 were convicted of Level 1, or most serious, criminal offenses. The plurality had no criminal convictions.
Still, the ratio of criminals to non-criminals is higher under Mr. Obama than it was under President George W. Bush.
Indeed, the former director of ICE told the Los Angeles Times last month that there was virtually no chance a “run-of-the-mill” illegal immigrant without a serious criminal record would be deported under the Obama administration.
Despite that, Mr. Obama has directed Mr. Johnson to look for ways to halt even more deportations.
Mr. Johnson met with Hispanic congressional Democrats on Wednesday to talk about other categories of illegal immigrants his department can carve out of danger of deportation.
Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat who has taken leadership on the issue, said the lawmakers presented Mr. Johnson with a six-page memo laying out options.
“We opened a new front today in the fight to protect American families. We have to find a way to keep moms and dads and husbands and wives who are simply trying to survive out of the deportation queue. And we have to make sure that the Department of Homeland Security is focusing on killers and rapists and using its resources on measures that actually make our country safer,” Mr. Gutierrez said.
One option is for Mr. Obama to expand his order granting tentative legal status to young adult illegal immigrants to include their parents and other family members, making them all eligible for work permits and permission to remain in the country.
Another option is to overlook immigration violations, which would mean being in the country illegally no longer would be grounds for deportation.
Critics say that would invite a new wave of illegal immigrants.
The Washington Times reached its 2 million deportation calculation by pro rating deportations in January 2009, when Mr. Obama took office, adding those to the hard figures for the rest of 2009, all of 2010 through 2013, and then extrapolating from the figures through March 8.
One ICE official suggested that the number of deportations has dropped this year because the Border Patrol is sending over fewer illegal immigrants.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which includes the Border Patrol, was unable to confirm or deny that claim.