Fact Check: Reuters Is Wrong — Biden Is Not Deporting More Illegal Aliens than Trump

Conflating “returns” and “removals” is a trick that Obama pulled too

By Jon Feere on July 10, 2024
fact check

A new article from Reuters is pushing a curious headline: “Biden is now deporting more people than Trump”. Americans paying attention to the Biden administration’s destruction of immigration enforcement and the resulting mass illegal immigration likely assume they’ve misread the headline, and upon a second reading likely assume Reuters printed a typo. It turns out, unsurprisingly, that Reuters is simply misleading its readers. In fact, deportations have plummeted under the Biden administration and criminal illegal aliens are some of the top beneficiaries of this administration’s lawlessness.

The Reuters article seems to be an attempt to help President Biden, whose polling on immigration is abysmal. It opens by stating that Biden “has struggled with record numbers of migrants caught crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally”, inferring that the unprecedented run on our border is outside his control and ignoring the fact that it’s the direct result of the Biden administration’s own anti-enforcement policies.

To understand how Reuters makes the claim on Biden’s deportations, it’s necessary to understand the difference between a “removal” conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and a “return” conducted by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Generally, when we talk about deportations, we’re talking about a removal — an arrest of an illegal alien processed by ICE and deported back to the alien’s home country. When we talk about returns, we’re generally talking about people apprehended near the border who are quickly pushed back — returned — to Mexico within a matter of hours. And these returns are often of the same people attempting to enter illegally multiple times.

DHS explains that a return is confirmed movement of an “alien out of the United States not based on an order of removal, but through either voluntary departure or voluntary return”. DHS explains that a “voluntary return may only take place at a border, and be facilitated by CBP”. It can get a little more complicated than that, but generally speaking, returns are not removals or deportations.

If this discussion sounds familiar, it’s likely because this very issue was central to a debate over immigration numbers under the Obama administration, which conflated data on returns and removals in an attempt to give the appearance of a strong commitment to immigration enforcement (in order to justify an amnesty bill). Pro-amnesty media outlets helped spread the misinformation. It wasn’t until the amnesty bill was dead that the Los Angeles Times admitted President Obama cooked the books in a piece titled, “High deportation figures are misleading”.

Obama himself eventually admitted that the alleged high deportation numbers “are actually a little deceptive because what we’ve been doing is … we’ve been apprehending folks at the borders and sending them back. That is counted as a deportation, even though they may have only been held for a day or 48 hours, sent back — that's counted as a deportation”. I still don’t consider DHS immigration data produced under the Obama administration to be all that reliable or accurate on account of these politicized efforts.

This is a well-known issue within recent immigration policy history, so one wonders why Reuters is attempting to spread the same misinformation today. Is this an attempt to help President Biden on an issue where his polling numbers are abysmal? Did someone inside the Biden White House decide to dust off the Obama-era playbook, hoping to help President Biden during an election year? Instead of using misleading analysis to promote an amnesty, are they now using it to promote a presidential candidate?

The Removal Data. Reuters apparently wants readers to think that the Biden administration has a high rate of deportations, but the reality is that the Biden administration has burdened CBP with a high rate of returns precisely because of a dramatic decrease in deportations.

A deportation figure produced by ICE under the Biden administration can be found in the agency’s annual report. The Biden administration’s own data on deportations shows a dramatic decline:

These deportation numbers are apparently what’s represented in Reuters’s own table, specifically with the dark green bars below (I’ve adjusted the table’s layout for clarity):

The olive-green color represents CBP activity on illegal aliens, which Reuters describes as “Deportations conducted by Customs and Border Protection” in the key. But in the footnote, Reuters also explains that these CBP numbers “include returns”, which, as explained above, are not removals or deportations, as far as the government is concerned.

If Reuters wanted to be more accurate, it would report that returns are exploding under the Biden administration, similar to how they exploded under the Obama administration — in which both Biden (as vice president) and DHS Secretary Mayorkas (as DHS deputy secretary) played a big role. Both administrations encouraged mass illegal immigration … and they got it. They allowed millions of illegal aliens into the United States and then pushed back — returned — a portion of that mass illegal immigration. Naturally, when you encourage millions of people to flock to our borders, you’re going to wind up with an increased number of returns because some people are going to have obviously problematic records and are easily returned by CBP and the Border Patrol.

But the fact that border agents have had an onslaught of illegal aliens they’ve had to push back via returns is not evidence of a successful immigration policy. It’s simply a sign of how chaotic things have become along our national borders — which is a direct result of the Biden administration’s policies.

The fact is that the Biden administration could have much higher return numbers, but these high return numbers are actually quite low compared to the number of illegal aliens the administration has waved into the United States. However one looks at it, this data represents a complete failure on the part of the Biden administration to protect America’s sovereignty and the rule of law.

The Crime Data. Reuters spreads even more misinformation in the same article, claiming that President Biden has “shifted enforcement priorities inside the country to focus on removing migrants who the U.S. has deemed as public safety threats”. This is a lie from the Biden administration, and Reuters shouldn’t be repeating it. For over three years, the Biden administration has claimed that its policies are designed to focus on criminal aliens to a greater degree than the policies under the Trump administration. As DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas put it in a September 2021 memo, “By exercising our discretionary authority in a targeted way, we can focus our efforts on those who pose a threat to national security, public safety, and border security and thus threaten America's well-being.” Official data now show that this has not been the outcome of the Biden administration’s policies, raising the question of whether this claim was a lie from the outset.

According to the Biden administration’s own data, criminal aliens have been a top beneficiary of its immigration policies. A straightforward analysis comparing the first three years of ICE criminal alien data under the Trump administration (FYs 2017, 2018, and 2019) to the first three years of ICE criminal alien data under the Biden administration (FYs 2021, 2022, and 2023) was published by the Center for Immigration Studies at the beginning of this year. The results were alarming; some of the data is published below.

In comparing the data, I found a 57 percent decrease in arrests of criminal aliens under the Biden administration and a 67 percent decrease in deportations of criminal aliens under the Biden administration. This isn’t a subtle shift in policies; it’s the result of a blatant effort by the Biden administration to allow criminal aliens to remain in the United States. And the data isn’t difficult to locate, so it should be well understood by anyone writing about immigration.

The data also shows that there has been a 44 percent decrease in detainer requests issued on criminal aliens by the Biden administration, meaning that the administration is actively choosing to not take thousands of criminal aliens into ICE custody despite the fact that they have been arrested by local law enforcement for criminal violations and could easily be picked up by ICE officers.

Looking at specific crimes, ICE data illustrate how harmful the Biden administration’s so-called “priorities” have been for public safety. Comparing the Trump administration’s first three years to the Biden administration’s first three years shows a dramatic decrease in the total number of criminal offenses on the records of aliens arrested.

The rap sheets of criminal aliens arrested in FYs 2017 to 2019 included more than 1,542,707 total offenses. By contrast, the rap sheets of criminal aliens arrested in FYs 2021 to 2023 included 681,614 total offenses. This is a 56 percent decrease and further evidence that the Biden administration has dramatically decreased ICE’s focus on criminal aliens.

To cite a few examples, arrests of aliens with assault records have decreased 48 percent, burglary records have decreased 55 percent, robbery records have decreased 47 percent, weapons offense records have decreased 44 percent, kidnapping records have decreased 34 percent, and so on. The full comparative table is below. It should be noted that these numbers are of total crimes on all rap sheets of aliens arrested by ICE during the given time period, and not a count of individual criminal aliens, due to the fact that some criminal aliens are responsible for multiple crimes.

Conclusion. The evidence is clear: The Biden administration has dramatically decreased deportations and protected criminal aliens. This is obvious to anyone paying attention to the immigration policies under the Biden administration, and should be obvious to anyone in the media reporting on immigration matters. Media that reports anything to the contrary only further undermines the credibility of journalism. If journalists wanted to help protect the American people against dangerous federal policies and politicians, they would be exposing the fallout of the Biden administration’s agenda and pressing Biden’s political appointees to defend their records.

Table 1. Total Criminal Offenses on Records of Aliens Arrested by ICE, Trump (FYs 2017-2019) vs. Biden (FYs 2021-2023)

Crime CategoryTrumpBiden Pct. Change
Traffic Offenses – DUI235,80069,282 71% Decrease
Dangerous Drugs220,818101,244 54% Decrease
Traffic Offenses212,78692,184 57% Decrease
Immigration183,34088,707 52% Decrease
Assault145,01175,454 48% Decrease
Obstructing Judiciary, Congress, Legislature, Etc.65,05926,936 59% Decrease
Larceny57,75121,114 63% Decrease
General Crimes54,71822,523 59% Decrease
Obstructing Police44,94222,102 51% Decrease
Fraudulent Activities37,28014,844 60% Decrease
Burglary35,82116,024 55% Decrease
Weapons Offenses33,21718,702 44% Decrease
Public Peace31,63611,675 63% Decrease
Invasion of Privacy20,39015,003 26% Decrease
Sex Offenses (Not involving Assault or Commercialized Sex)20,20215,366 24% Decrease
Stolen Vehicle17,6897,607 57% Decrease
Family Offenses17,3458,096 53% Decrease
Robbery15,9138,396 47% Decrease
Sexual Assault15,52911,424 26% Decrease
Forgery14,8965,064 66% Decrease
Stolen Property12,5494,810 62% Decrease
Damage Property12,4696,304 49% Decrease
Liquor12,0635,458 55% Decrease
Flight/Escape9,7935,118 48% Decrease
Kidnapping5,9453,906 34% Decrease
Homicide5,8374,834 17% Decrease
Threat3,9081,688 57% Decrease