DHS Releases 2010 Immigration Enforcement Statistics

Congressional opponents of comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) often take the tack that they don’t oppose CIR per se, but cannot support it until some time in the (distant, utopian) future, when the U.S.-Mexican border is completely sealed, and illegal immigration is no longer a problem. Senator John McCain – erstwhile immigration moderate, and once a stalwart supporter of CIR – eventually changed his tune to harmonize with the theme sounded by the rest of his party: “build the danged fence” and never miss an opportunity to bash the current administration for its purported lack of effort to seal the southwestern border and its alleged want of vigor in the enforcement of immigration law.

For his part, President Obama has mocked the “seal-the-border-first” crowd, joking that perhaps they’d finally be satisfied if he built a moat along the border and stocked it with alligators. He has a point. According to a statistical summary of immigration enforcement actions, recently released by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Obama administration has aggressively ramped up the arrest, detention, and removal of unlawful immigrants, setting new records for the volume and intensity of federal immigration enforcement efforts. (See Immigration Enforcement Actions: 2010, Department of Homeland Security Annual Report, Jun.2011.) We have known this for a while, but it is instructive to have the hard numbers to compare last year’s efforts with those of previous years.

DHS reports that in fiscal year 2010 (FY10) – government-speak for the period running from October 1, 2009 to September 30, 2010 – DHS apprehended 517,000 foreign nationals, and removed 387,000 of them from the United States. This is down from the high-water mark of 2009, when DHS apprehended 613,000 foreign nationals, and removed 393,000, but it still is considerably higher than FY08’s numbers, when DHS took 792,000 foreign nationals into custody, but ultimately removed only 359,000 of them. (See Immigration Enforcement Actions: 2009, Department of Homeland Security Annual Report, Aug.2010 and Immigration Enforcement Actions, 2008, Department of Homeland Security Annual Report, Jul.2009.)

The statistics show that the Obama administration has not been “soft on illegal immigration,” as its critics often – and baselessly – charge; if anything, it has been even more aggressive in policing immigration violations than its predecessor. It is interesting to note that, although more foreign nationals were swept up in DHS immigration enforcement actions in FY08, almost ten percent fewer of them were deported at the end of the process than in FY10.

DHS statistics also indicate that deportations of criminal foreign nationals have been increasing steadily in recent years, from 97,133 criminal foreign nationals removed in FY08, to 128,345 in FY09, and 168,532 in FY10. A substantial percentage of the convicted criminal foreign nationals removed – 62.3% – fell into three categories: (1) drug offenders guilty of manufacturing, selling, distributing, or possessing illegal drugs (25.3%), (2) immigration violators found guilty of entry and reentry, false citizenship claims, or smuggling foreign nationals (18.7%), and (3) criminal traffic offenders (18.3%). Offenders guilty of violent crimes such as assault (7.2%), robbery (2.2%), and sexual assault (1.9%) accounted collectively for 11.3 percent of convicted criminal foreign nationals removed in FY10.

As in previous years, the lion’s share of the foreign nationals removed by DHS – 92 percent – came from four countries: Mexico (73%), Guatemala (8%), Honduras (6%), and El Salvador (5%), with the remainder from a smattering of Caribbean and Latin American countries, and a small percentage (1.6%) from elsewhere. In other words, the administration has not pulled punches in its immigration enforcement efforts,  despite taking flak from key supporters in the Latino community, who have threatened to abandon Obama at the polls if his aggressive immigration enforcement continues.

The point of all this? Congressional opponents of comprehensive immigration reform should be honest about their true reasons for blocking legislative efforts to fix what’s broken in our immigration system. Their claim that the administration is not taking immigration and border enforcement seriously simply does not hold water; it is no excuse for not working on a solution to our long-standing immigration problems. It will take a lot of difficult decisions to forge a new immigration system, one that can meet our immediate and pressing economic needs without compromising our national security. Congress needs to stop making excuses, and get down to business. Overheated rhetoric, the variety of “the-sky-is-falling,” and outright distortions of the facts, may win short-term political points, but it’s no way to resolve our immigration problems.

Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.