The Obama administration likely deported the fewest people in six years last fiscal year, according to new Immigration and Customs Enforcement data.
The downward deportation trend is a sharp reversal for the administration, which has consistently increased removals to record-breaking levels each year, far outpacing deportation levels under President George W. Bush.
According to ICE data first reported in Bloomberg Businessweek and confirmed by Yahoo News, 343,020 people were deported between Oct. 1, 2012, and Sept. 7, 2013. If deportations continued at the same pace until Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, that would mark a six-year low for removals. During the fiscal year ending in 2012, the administration removed 409,900 people.
The low deportation figures come at a time when President Barack Obama is facing pressure from some in his party and immigration activists to issue an executive order halting deportations for immigrants who have not committed felonies until immigration reform has passed.
A 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. Frustrated activists have taken to demonstrating at detention facilities across the country, chaining themselves to deportation buses and blocking entrances to the facilities.
Their demand for a presidential halt to deportations is not without precedent. Last year, Obama announced a “deferred action” program for young unauthorized immigrants who came to the country as children, have no criminal record, and finished high school. About half a million young people are now immune from deportation and can apply for a two-year work permit under the program. Critics of deferred action argued that it amounted to an executive amnesty and was an overreach of the president's power.
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 over the weekend that it’s “wrong” to deport someone for not having legal immigration status.
“Our view of the law is, if somebody is here without sufficient documentation, that is not reason for deportation,” Pelosi said. “If someone has broken the law or committed a felony or something, that is a different story.”
But the lower deportation numbers do not satisfy reform advocates.
“The Obama administration is still deporting hundreds of thousands of people each year that would qualify for a path to citizenship under legislation the administration supports,” said Frank Sharry, the head of America’s Voice, an immigration reform advocacy group. “That is outrageous. If they fully implemented their existing policies on the use of discretion on keeping the focus on bad actors, they would be reducing deportations much more significantly.”