The Obama administration has deported fewer immigrants over the last 12 months than at any time since 2006, according to internal figures obtained by the Associated Press.
The AP reported that deportations of immigrants with criminal convictions have fallen to the lowest levels since President Obama took office in 2009, despite his earlier pledge to deport undocumented immigrants with criminal records. However, the share of criminal immigrants deported in relation to overall immigrants deported rose slightly, from 56% to 59%.
Obama has been called the “Deporter-in-Chief” by immigrant advocates, while at the same time derided by conservative critics who believe he isn’t being tough enough.
In the last 12 months, there were 231,000 overall deportations, of which 136,700 were convicted undocumented immigrants, making for a 42% drop in total deportations compared to 2012. The figures don't include those caught at the Mexico border and sent back.
An independent analysis in September found that requests from federal immigration officials to hold suspects for deportation at local police departments have also fallen significantly.
Jennifer Elzea, a spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), said the Department of Homeland Security hadn’t finalized it’s fiscal year 2015 figures.
Deportations may have gone down, however, because ICE last year changed who it considers to be a priority for deportation, Elzea said. At the top are convicted criminals, people who recently crossed the border illegally, or those who pose a national security threat.
Police departments across the nation have also limited cooperation or declined to work with ICE. Some of them declined to work with the agency under their now-cancelled Secure Communities program, which federal courts had ruled violated immigrant detainee’s civil rights. Under the program, local authorities honored federal requests to hold detainees longer than they normally would in order to give ICE agents time to pick them up.
“As a result, overall removals may show a decline,” Elzea said. “Consistent with a substantial drop in overall apprehensions, among other factors.”
ICE has since launched the Priority Enforcement Program (PEP) to replace Secure Communities. It still allows for the use of detainers, but local authorities are now only asked to simply notify ICE when someone on their radar is about to be released.
Pablo Alvarado, director for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON), said the numbers reported by the AP have less to do with the Obama administration changing it's policies on deportations and more to do with advocates protesting local police departments working with ICE.
“There has been a revolt throughout the country against [Obama] for giving local police the ability to enforce immigration laws,” Alvarado said.
The figures are still very high, Alvarado added. He said his group was concerned that many of the people being deported had low-level crimes that were committed years ago.
“Anybody who commits a crime has to pay,” Alvarado said. “But to be deported is a double punishment.”
An ICE official told BuzzFeed News that of about 340 jurisdictions that had previously declined to work with the agency, half have now agreed to work with them in some form.
Thirteen of the top 25 local authorities who previously declined to work with federal immigration agents are also now participating in PEP, according to the ICE official.
This month, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said it would give federal immigration agents access to inmates who have been convicted of a serious crime and are potentially deportable.