A quiet little act of confession played out in Washington, D.C. recently — at least, quiet by Washington terms, and certainly as quiet as the administration could make it. We'll get to the where, and how in just a moment; bear with me as I talk about the what.
For years now, critics of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have alleged that its deportation numbers didn't add up. The questions and scrutiny at one point led John Morton, leader at the time of the DHS component Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to disavow publicly that the "books were cooked", although one Shakespeare-quoting observer at the time noted that the man "doth protest too much".
Of course, the president, apparently a man who truly does love to have his cake and eat it too, attempted to inoculate himself in a casual, almost sotto voce, aside during a television interview with a Spanish-language station, saying that the numbers were "a little deceptive" even as the dubious leaders at DHS and ICE were touting, loudly and often, "record" numbers of removals.
Yet throughout all of this, neither Morton, nor his then-boss, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, nor some of his colleagues, such as John Sandweg (senior counselor to Napolitano who took over from Morton after his departure only to leave abruptly himself after a six-month stint) ever fessed up.
Meanwhile, advocates of open borders and amnesty, pro-immigrant groups, many journalists and academicians, and even some think tanks chose to accept (perhaps, in some cases, with a wink-and-a-nod) the record-numbers-deported assertion because it served their purposes in trying to get a broad-based amnesty passed,by proving that all was well with immigration enforcement at the border and in the interior.
But for those who believed otherwise, proving conclusively that the statistics were a sham was unlikely until the numbers-behind-the-numbers could be looked at and examined at length. And, of course, the administration did everything it could, as is its wont with immigration matters, among other subjects, to hide those numbers through "reconfiguring" the format of yearly immigration statistical yearbooks to make them generic and useless, stiffing Freedom of Information Act requesters, and generally playing hide the pea.
That the numbers did finally make it into the public domain is thanks to the interest of a small handful of journalists and intrepid work by a number of congressional staffers. That the numbers were given the kind of analysis they deserved is thanks largely to the efforts of Center for Immigration Studies Director of Policy Studies Jessica Vaughan, whose October 2013 "Deportation Numbers Unwrapped" showed exactly how the administration had manipulated the statistics: By allowing ICE to "adopt" and take credit for arrests actually made by Border Patrol Agents. Those statistics accounted for more than half of the removals making up ICE's "record number of deportations", something the administration never admitted since taking up the practice in earnest several years ago.
But now that the likelihood of "comprehensive immigration reform", the code for amnesty, has receded into the distance, those numbers have begun to backfire on the president and his staff. What better time to start the process of jettisoning them? With new leaders at the helm of DHS and old leaders gone from ICE, we're in a classic "Teflon moment", because there's no one left to hold accountable. Ergo the low-key acknowledgement from recently confirmed DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson at a congressional hearing. Here it is, courtesy of the Washington Times:
"Under the Obama administration, more than half of those removals that were attributed to ICE are actually a result of Border Patrol arrests that wouldn't have been counted in prior administrations," said Rep. John Culberson, Texas Republican.
"Correct," Mr. Johnson confirmed.
That's why, as the Times story explained, the Obama administration's deportation numbers "can't be compared one-to-one with deportations under President Bush or other prior administrations."
Great. They're finally on the record, admitting to their statistical sleight-of-hand — this should've happened a long time ago. So much for Morton and his "we didn't cook the books"; so much for the "formidable" machinery of immigration enforcement.
As Ms. Vaughan has cogently pointed out, under this administration total combined deportations (from both the border and the interior) in 2011, the latest year of complete numbers available when her analysis was prepared, was 715,495 – the lowest level since 1973.
But even as one manipulation ends, another begins: On March 13, the president ordered DHS "to conduct a system-wide review of the way it enforces the nation's immigration laws, asking the department 'to see how it can conduct enforcement more humanely'."
Given the administration's abysmal track record on immigration enforcement, and liberal exercise of constitutionally dubious "executive action", there is ample reason to believe that this will prove to be more code for an order to grind the system of immigration enforcement (already laboring uphill in second gear) to a complete halt.