Who's Cooking the Deportation Books? You Make the Call

By Jessica M. Vaughan on April 24, 2013

Last week, during a budget hearing before the House Homeland Security Committee, Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.) asked DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano about my recent testimony in the ICE officers' lawsuit pointing out that total removals and removals of criminals have declined by 40 percent since the implementation of the administration's lenient "prosecutorial discretion" policies.

The Secretary responded, just a little irritably (found in the video to the right or viewed on the C-Span website):

Well I don't know how she does her math, but I know how I do mine, and the way I do math is look at removals from the country. We have removed more people from the United States than any prior administration. So I can't respond to an individual and how she cooks her books but I can tell you what I look at and I look at implementation of Secure Communities. I look at how many convicted felons we're removing, I look at how many repeat violators we're removing. I get the complaints, Representative, from the other side who say we're removing too many. That's also a sign, I guess I get them from both sides, I guess that's a sign we hit the sweet spot. But we are very committed to the rule of law where immigration is concerned, that's border security and interior enforcement.

So that our readers can do their own math, the documents DHS provided for the lawsuit are here. Little of this information has been released before and it provides an interesting window on enforcement activity.

What was striking to me, in addition to the recent general decline in removals and even criminal removals, was the shift in ICE priorities over the years from interior enforcement (nearly all criminals) to processing Border Patrol cases. In 2008, Border Patrol cases made up 33 percent of removals; by mid-2013, Border Patrol cases made up 56 percent of removals. This transfer of casework from Border Patrol to ICE enabled the agency to claim a dramatic increase in deportations in 2012, even though in earlier years such cases were not handled as removals at all.

But the Border Patrol cases do not include as many convicted felons or repeat violators as the regular ICE caseload in the interior, so if that's what the Secretary is looking for, she won't find it in those numbers.

As for Secure Communities, well that program has resulted in a 24 percent increase in the number of referrals of criminal aliens to ICE's Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) division since mid-2011. But over the same time period, ERO removals went down by 50 percent. Go figure.