Record number of deportations took place on Obama’s watch

Detained immigrants are questioned after being captured by U.S. Border Patrol agents on August 16, 2016 in Roma, Texas.
Detained immigrants are questioned after being captured by U.S. Border Patrol agents on August 16, 2016 in Roma, Texas. Getty Images

Newly released official figures show that during the first seven years of President Barack Obama’s presidency, more than 2.7 million foreign nationals were deported — the largest number in more than a century.

Figures contained in the 2015 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, issued in mid-December, show that from the time Obama was inaugurated as America’s first black president on Jan. 20, 2009, through Sept. 30, 2015, a total of 2,749,854 undocumented immigrants were removed from the United States.

That’s a record.

More than 2.7 million undocumented immigrants were removed from the U.S. under Obama.

No president since deportation figures have been kept in the 1890s has been linked to such a high number of removals, according to the Yearbook, considered the “bible” of immigration statistics among people who deal in immigration, such as attorneys who represent immigrants in court, activists who advocate for the rights of immigrants and journalists who cover the immigration beat.

Under President Grover Cleveland, 9,069 foreign nationals were deported, according to Yearbook figures. The runner-up behind Obama was President George W. Bush, under whose watch 2,012,539 were removed. During Bill Clinton’s presidency, 869,646 immigrants were kicked out, Yearbook figures show.

Many Obama supporters and some of his own aides have previously disputed assertions that he held the record in the number of immigrant deportations.

For example, in 2014, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson told Congress that figures tied to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that indicated a record of deportations under Obama were really not deportations, but quick turn-backs at the border of immigrants detained at or near the boundary line and then sent back to Mexico without a formal deportation process or order.

Johnson’s statement came during an exchange with lawmakers at a congressional hearing when a Republican queried him on whether the Obama administration was inflating deportation figures.

“Under the Obama administration, more than half of those removals that were attributed to ICE are actually a result of Border Patrol arrests that wouldn’t have been counted in prior administrations?” asked Rep. John Culberson, a Texas Republican, at the March 2014 hearing.

“Correct,” Johnson stated, adding: “We are enforcing the law vigorously and effectively, which results in the removal of over 300,000 people a year over the last several years.”

Yet, when the 2014 and 2015 Yearbooks came out, there was no correction of removal figures listed in the annual publications and no note attesting to Johnson’s clarification. In fact, the figures listed in the Yearbook are clearly labeled as removals or deportations, not border turn-backs.

“Removals are the compulsory and confirmed movement of an inadmissible or deportable alien out of the United States based on an order of removal,” according to a footnote in the list labeled removals stretching from 1892 to 2015 published in the Yearbook issued in mid-December. The Yearbook is a publication of the Office of Immigration Statistics, one of the many agencies under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that Johnson oversees.

DHS would not comment on the apparent discrepancy between Johnson’s statement and Yearbook figures. ICE, meanwhile, made available its removal figures by fiscal year from 2001 to 2015, but noted in an email message that the figures since 2007 included the returns to which Johnson apparently referred.

ICE figures are different from Yearbook figures, but not dramatically so.

For example, for 2007 it showed 291,060 “removals” compared to 319,382 removals in the yearbook. In 2012, ICE showed 409,849 “removals” compared to 416,324 removals in the Yearbook.

Incidentally, returns are listed separately in the Yearbook.

Neither ICE nor DHS provide an explanation about how the Yearbook removal figures were compiled.

While the United States has had immigration laws since at least 1798, removal figures have only been reported in the Yearbook of Immigration Statistics since 1892.

At the time, the president was Benjamin Harrison. But the Yearbook does not list the total number of deportations during his term, which ran from March 1889 to March 1893.

The number of deportations per presidential term can only be counted in the Yearbook beginning with Grover Cleveland whose second and last term ran from March 1893 to March 1897. His total was 9,069.

Throughout the 20th Century, according to the Yearbook, deportations never rose higher than those expelled during Bill Clinton’s terms that ran from January 1993 to January 2001.

The dramatic rise in deportations can perhaps be attributed to a change in immigration law in 1996.

The dramatic rise in deportations noted in the Yearbook from the 141,326 removals under President George H. W. Bush to the 869,647 under Clinton can perhaps be attributed to a change in immigration law in 1996 that made it easier for immigration courts to deport immigrants, especially those with criminal convictions.

During this year’s campaign, President-elect Donald Trump claimed that Eisenhower had deported 1.3 million people.

PolitiFact, a fact-checking website run by editors and reporters from the Tampa Bay Times, rated Trump’s claim as Half True.

That’s because PolitiFact researchers found some evidence that during Eisenhower’s presidency the true number of deportations might have been high.

“We came across estimates of forced removals ranging from 250,000 to 1.3 million,” PolitiFact said.

It was only in the 21st century when deportations skyrocketed, according to the Yearbook. Under President George W. Bush, whose terms ran from January 2001 to January 2009, at least 2,012,539 foreign nationals were removed, according to the Yearbook.

Under President George W. Bush, some 2 million foreign nationals were removed.

Obama, who took office in January 2009, steps down Jan. 20 when Trump gets sworn in.

During the campaign, Trump threatened repeatedly to deport all 11.1 million undocumented immigrants in the country.

Since voters elected him to take over the White House, however, Trump has tempered that threat, saying he might focus on deporting two or three million foreign nationals with criminal records.