TRAC Study: ICE Deportation Filings Declining

Illegal immigration remains a hot topic that may get hotter still as election season wears on. President Obama has been criticized from the right for allegedly being too lax in his enforcement of immigration laws. Alex Nowrasteh, a frequent commenter on immigration issues, assailed this notion in a recent Forbes article, portraying President Obama as the Deporter-in-Chief. [See President Obama: Deporter-in-Chief? by Alex Nowrasteh, Forbes (30.Jul.2012).]

Nowrasteh cites statistics from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) showing that “just shy of 1.5 million unauthorized immigrants have been forcefully deported from the United States under Napolitano’s leadership.” That’s far from the whole picture, though, according to a recent study from the nonpartisan statistical watchdog TRAC Immigration, based at Syracuse University. TRAC analyzed twenty years of government statistics and found a steady decline in ICE’s court filings seeking removal orders – that is, deportation – starting in 2009, a trend that continues to today. [See Drop in ICE Deportation Filings in Immigration Court, TRAC Immigration (30.Jul.2012).]

According to TRAC Immigration, “New deportation proceedings have been steadily falling since FY [fiscal year] 2009 when ICE filed 255,238 requests for deportation orders. During the first nine months of FY2012, court records show a total of 142,117 ICE new requests have been filed.”

If things continue at that rate, it would mark a ten percent drop in removal order requests, compared to last year, and a still larger decline compared to FY09. TRAC Immigration notes that the drop in newly-filed cases will not show up in deportation statistics right away, due to “the Immigration Court backlog and long wait times before cases are heard and decided.” Moreover, they point out that court statistics “will not track every individual who ultimately ends up being deported,” because in some cases, ICE can remove a person from the United States without resorting to the immigration courts.

TRAC suggests that the actual removal numbers are probably trending in the same direction – downward – as removal requests filed in immigration court, but it has not been able to confirm this:

“ICE contends that since 2009 its actual deportations have been rising, not falling. But – despite many FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] requests – the agency has steadfastly refused to release to TRAC the needed supporting documentation. Further, those records the agency has released to TRAC do not support its claim.”

So which is it? Are deportations on the rise or on the decline? The answer could make a difference in the November elections; both sides are competing for the hearts and minds of Latino voters, the group that put President Obama over the top in 2008. The voters will decide what they believe – or what matters to them – come November, regardless.

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