Deportation statistics touted by the Obama administration came under fire earlier this month when experts testifying in federal court suggested that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is artificially inflating the numbers of deported illegal immigrants who have committed crime.
The testimony came during a hearing for a lawsuit filed by 10 ICE agents against DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano. The agents are challenging the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and ICE’s policy of prosecutorial discretion.
DACA, which allows those who came to the country before the age of 16 and are not yet 31 and have committed no crimes to apply for a deferral of removal for two years. The White House introduced it last year. The controversial executive action by President Barack Obama was enacted in lieu of the DREAM Act, which failed to pass Congress.
ICE Director John Morton introduced prosecutorial discretion in a 2011 memo. That memo gave ICE agents parameters to use in considering whether or not to cancel removal proceedings. Individuals that warranted particular care included veterans, pregnant or nursing women, individuals who suffer from serious mental or physical disability, and those with serious health problems among others.
Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the nonpartisan Center for Immigration Studies, testified that internal DHS statistics show that deportations, interior enforcement, and criminal alien removals are down dramatically as a result of policies implemented by the Obama administration.
The Obama administration said in 2012, it deported a total of 409, 849 illegal immigrants, 225,390 of which were convicted criminal aliens. Their chart detailing the number of criminal immigrant removals shows a record high. However, Vaughan says removals of these criminals are running 40 percent lower since the Morton memo was issued.
Her testimony contradicted claims made by the Obama administration, which were widely repeated in the media, that deportation is at record highs. Vaughan said the administration has "cooked its removal statistics" and wrote about the hearing in a blog post.
"In some cases, it’s more of a function of their record-keeping system," Vaughan said. Their data system "produces double-counting" and "they have obscured the real numbers."
Additionally, Vaughan said the statistics reported by the administration are not interior enforcement cases but are border patrol cases.
In the past, only a small number of border patrol cases were included in the removal numbers.
The hearing also revealed that many criminal illegal immigrants are abusing DACA to get released.
The ICE union president and an ICE agent testified that a significant number of criminals are being released from jailhouses because they say they qualify for DACA. ICE agents then are forced to release them as a result of the administration’s policies.
Chris Crane, president of the National ICE Council, testified that the policies are forcing agents to release criminal illegal immigrants from custody simply because they claim they qualify for deferred action.
ICE Agent Samuel Martin also testified that some are saying they qualify for "Obama’s Dream Act," the term they give to DACA.
DHS did not respond to a request for comment.
"We’re giving immigration benefits based on the honor system," said Vaughan.
She said agents have to "just accept what the applicant says, and everybody understands they just need to say, ‘I qualify for deferred action’ and know they will be released. … These people have been arrested and are in jailhouses."
Vaughan said the lawsuit is "the first time this executive order has been challenged" and that the numbers reported are "giving the public a false impression of improved enforcement."
Whether the lawsuit or the questions raised about the Obama administration’s removal statistics will have an impact on comprehensive illegal immigration reform bill now introduced remains to be seen.
Sen. Jeff Sessions’ (R., Ala.) office provided the following statement when asked for comment on the ICE lawsuit and removal statistics, and the immigration bill recently introduced.
"In recent years interior enforcement has been significantly undermined," Sessions said. "And yet our interior enforcement needs are almost totally neglected in the Gang’s proposal. Alarmingly, the bill leaves intact the single greatest obstacle to immigration reform: the administration’s abuse of prosecutorial discretion to prevent the enforcement of federal law. It will also provide safe harbor to those who have committed a variety of offenses—ranging from identity theft, to multiple immigration violations, and even those with criminal records."