The Obama administration deported 10 percent fewer people last fiscal year than the year before, arguing that immigration agents were focused on removing undocumented immigrants with criminal records.
Nearly 370,000 people were deported in the year that ended this September, compared with 409,849 the year before, according to official numbers released Thursday.
In total, 1,833,228 people have been deported since Obama took office in 2009, prompting immigration reform advocates to label him “deporter in chief.” The president is on pace to deport significantly more immigrants than his predecessor, even as he pushes for a stymied immigration reform bill that would offer citizenship to millions.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) says 59 percent of those who were deported last year had been previously convicted of a crime, including traffic offenses. Most of the people who were deported who did not have a criminal record were apprehended on the border.
“ICE focused interior enforcement operations on convicted criminals with an emphasis on those convicted of the most serious crimes,” the agency said.
Immigration advocates — who have been pressuring Obama to suspend deportations altogether — were not appeased by the lower numbers. Obama argues he doesn’t have the power to halt deportations, though he did create a “deferred action” program for young undocumented immigrants last year that’s allowed almost half a million people to become immune from deportation.
Earlier this month, nearly 30 House Democrats sent a letter to Obama calling on him to expand his deferred action program to millions more who would be eligible for citizenship under immigration reform. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a Telemundo interview last weekend that it’s “wrong” to deport someone solely for not having legal immigration status.
A bipartisan Senate bill that offers citizenship to millions of immigrants who crossed the border illegally or overstayed visas has been stymied in the Republican-controlled House. Some conservatives in the House have objected to providing citizenship, and they want a special, noncitizenship residency status for those who qualify. A Pew Research Center poll released Thursday found that most Hispanics say relief from deportation for undocumented immigrants is more important than a path to citizenship.
Frustrated activists have taken to demonstrating at detention facilities across the country, chaining themselves to deportation buses and blocking entrances to the facilities.
Frank Sharry, the director of the immigration reform advocacy group America’s Voice, called the deportations “sickening.”
“The Obama administration is barreling towards the dubious honor of hitting a record 2 million deportations by early next year,” said American Civil Liberties Union policy analyst Ruthie Epstein in a statement. “Today’s numbers show that ICE continues to sweep tens of thousands of immigrants into a detention and deportation machine that lacks basic due process protections, including the dignity of an appearance before a judge.”