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In a speech on immigration reform in El Paso, Texas, President Barack Obama said his administration has focused on deporting illegal immigrants convicted of crimes.
"Beyond the border, we’re going after employers who knowingly exploit people and break the law," Obama said in the speech on May 10, 2011. "And we are deporting those who are here illegally. And that’s a tough issue. It’s a source of controversy.
"But I want to emphasize we’re not doing it haphazardly. We’re focusing our limited resources and people on violent offenders and people convicted of crimes -- not just families, not just folks who are just looking to scrape together an income. And as a result, we’ve increased the removal of criminals by 70 percent."
Obama's claim that under his administration, deportation of criminals increased by 70 percent suggests a significant shift in policy, so we decided to check it out.
According to data provided by the Department of Homeland Security, the number of illegal immigrants "removed" rose about 6 percent -- from 369,221 to 392,862 -- between the end of September 2008 (four months before Obama took office) and the end of September 2010. But a much larger percentage of those deported were convicted criminals. In 2008, 31 percent were criminals; but by 2010, the percentage jumped to 50 percent.
The raw number of convicted criminals who were deported went from 114,415 in 2008 to 195,772 in 2010. That's 71 percent. So that squares with Obama's claim.
Data for the first half of the 2011 fiscal year (which began at the end of September) suggests that trend is continuing, with about 52 percent of the deportations involving convicted criminals.
In an Oct. 6, 2010, press release, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the numbers reflect the administration's "prioritizing the identification and removal of criminal aliens who pose a threat to public safety."
"Our approach has yielded historic results, removing more convicted criminal aliens than ever before and issuing more financial sanctions on employers who knowingly and repeatedly violate immigration laws than during the entire previous administration," Napolitano said.
Roy Beck, executive director of NumbersUSA, a group that favors reducing immigration into the United States, said it's true that the deportation rate, particularly deportation of convicted criminals, has been higher under Obama.
"My sense is that Obama deserves credit, for all the complaints about him, that he has done maybe a little better than Bush on deportations," Beck said. "I think the main context, though, is that the amount of deportations under Bush was rather small."
And even under Obama, Beck said, the administration is talking about fewer than 400,000 deportations in a country with an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants.
DHS statistics show that under Bush, overall deportations more than tripled between 2001 and 2008 -- going from 116,782 to 369,221. But in the latter part of Bush's presidency, the biggest jump was in the deportation of illegal immigrants who were were not convicted criminals. During the eight years of Bush's presidency, deportation of convicted criminals rose from 71,079 in 2001 to 114,415 in 2008. That's a 61 percent increase over eight years.
In the first two years under Obama, the data suggest a policy shift toward prioritizing the deportation of convicted criminals. And Obama is correct that there has been a 70 percent increase. We rate his statement True.
White House website, Remarks by the President on Comprehensive Immigration Reform in El Paso, Texas, May 10, 2011
Department of Homeland Security, Press release: Secretary Napolitano Announces Record-breaking Immigration Enforcement Statistics Achieved under the Obama Administration, Oct. 6, 2010
E-mail interview with Gillian Christensen, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security, May 10, 2011
E-mail interview with Roy Beck, executive director of NumbersUSA, May 10, 2011
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