Errors Mar Bipartisan Policy Center Report on Enforcement

By Jessica Vaughan on March 21, 2014

A new paper by the pro-amnesty Bipartisan Policy Center, which defends Obama administration claims of "record" deportations, is tainted by errors and mistaken assumptions.

I was most interested in the first section, "Removals (Deportations)", which includes this initial statement:

The common claim that the Obama administration deports unauthorized immigrants in record numbers is true.

Unfortunately, it's barely "truthy", and depends on the same clever semantics and book-cooking used by the Obama administration. The report's definition of deportations matches neither the technical nor the common use of the term. Moreover, the statistics and bar graph are contaminated by incorrect assumptions. It would have been most accurate to say:

The common claim that the Obama administration deports illegal immigrants in record numbers can only be made in reference to ICE removals and returns, which in recent years have been juiced with Border Patrol cases that were never counted by prior administrations.

The first problem is the definition of "deportation". The report's author, Matt Graham, a junior staffer at the Center, chooses to define deportations as formal removals effected by ICE. Removals are the harshest of several consequences that result in an alien being forced to leave the United States, and all three U.S. immigration enforcement agencies can effect them. In recent years, removals have made up between one-half and one-third of all forced departures from the United States, so they are not a complete measure of deportations. (In my recent report on the same topic, I counted all forced departures, including removals and returns as "deportations".)

The second problem is that there are no published data on ICE removals prior to 2007. So Graham substitutes "total removals" as reported by the Office of Immigration Statistics (see Table 39) as a proxy for ICE removals. But these numbers include removals that were effected by the Border Patrol and CBP port of entry officers as well as ICE. So these data do not match his definition. Graham told me that he assumed that most removals were carried out by ICE and that the Border Patrol handled mostly returns. This is not necessarily the case; all three enforcement agencies can effect both removals and returns. As I showed in Table 2 of my report, the number of Border Patrol cases that end up as removals has nearly doubled since 2008.

The data he uses for the period 2007 to 2013 do not match his definition, either. For 2007-2011, Graham uses data from a report on the ICE web site. It is not cited this way, but I believe that the 2012 number actually comes from my deportations report (the footnote says the number came from ICE's 2012 deportations report, which has been taken down from the ICE web site — but I have a hard copy, and the number he uses is not in it). The 2013 number comes from ICE's 2013 deportations report.

These are all official ICE numbers, but they do not match Graham's definition of "deportations" either because they include both removals and returns. ICE states this on all of its statistical reports, but if you are not used to working with this data, you could easily miss it, as he told me he did.

In addition Graham presents, without citation, statistics on interior and border deportations that I obtained from ICE and published that reveal that recent ICE deportation statistics include an increasing number of referrals from Border Patrol apprehensions that were never counted by previous administrations. The statistics are cited to the above-named ICE documents that do not actually appear on the ICE website. They can be found only in my report on the CIS website, which Graham or his editors apparently did not wish to acknowledge in what is otherwise a very carefully footnoted document.

Inconveniently for the report, these statistics show that real interior enforcement, as opposed to "ICE removals", has declined significantly since 2009. This trend does not support the claim of record levels of enforcement, only "record levels of removals and returns apprehended by Border Patrol and merely processed by ICE". That's a big difference if you care about real interior enforcement, especially considering that it is, and always has, prioritized illegal aliens who are a threat to public safety.

All of the errors described above occurred in one paragraph of the report and the accompanying bar graph (found on pp. 1-2). I have just skimmed the rest of the report, but found several more interpretive and factual mistakes that led the author to unsupported conclusions. These repeated mistakes reveal a profound lack of understanding of how immigration enforcement actually works.

For example, in the paragraph that follows the one I critiqued above, the second sentence contains one factual error and one nonsensical statement: 1) "border removals rarely go through immigration court" (according to Border Patrol statistics that I presented in Table 2 of my study, about 10 percent end up in court, which I wouldn't call "rare"); and 2) "as most are eligible for one or more forms of administrative removal" (actually all removals are administrative; it has nothing to do with whether the case goes through immigration court). Not to pile on, but later in the same paragraph, Graham again reveals his lack of expertise when he describes expedited removals and reinstatements as "administrative" because they don't go through immigration court; of course, immigration courts also issue administrative orders of removal.

Later, on page 6, Graham speculates that the increased number of removals of criminal aliens "has largely been accomplished through the use of expedited removal and reinstatements of previous removals." Again, this is nonsensical; by official policy, expedited removal takes place almost exclusively at the border. The 2013 ICE removals report he frequently cites stated that less than half of aliens removed in the border area had criminal convictions, but 80 percent of aliens removed from the interior had criminal convictions. Reinstatements are about equally common in both types of cases. So obviously ICE's criminal removal numbers are not being pumped by the border cases; in fact they are dragged down by them.

I could go on, but instead will simply suggest that anyone looking for an expert analysis of the state of immigration enforcement look somewhere else.

The Bipartisan Policy Center is the former employer of Becky Tallent, who is House Speaker John Boehner's lead immigration staffer and amnesty promoter on Capitol Hill (she previously played the same role for Sen. John McCain). Their Immigration Task Force, which produced the report, is led by Theresa Cardinal Brown; old-timers like me will remember that Brown was for some years a lobbyist for the Chamber of Commerce and the American Immigration Lawyers Association before receiving an appointment to DHS.