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By Julie Kliegman March 17, 2014

Activist Janet Murguía calls Obama 'deporter-in-chief,' says he has deported more immigrants than other presidents

Editor’s note: After we published this report, we got questions from readers about why we didn’t rely on more current numbers used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, opting instead to use other numbers from the Department of Homeland Security. So we expanded parts of this report to explain our reasoning in more detail. The rating remains the same.

Last week President Barack Obama told immigration reform activists he would look into reducing deportations of illegal immigrants.

This follows criticism that Obama is falling short of his promises on comprehensive immigration legislation. Not only that, but over the last few years, some have gone as far as to call him "deporter-in-chief."

On Univision’s talk show Al Punto, a Spanish-language political talk show, host Jorge Ramos interviewed a political activist on March 9, 2014, about her choice to use that nickname in a recent speech.

"The truth is we’re at the point of reaching 2 million deportations," said Janet Murguía, National Council of La Raza president, in an interview PolitiFact translated from Spanish. "For us, this is a historic level, more than any other president of the United States. Our community is in crisis, and this isn’t acceptable."

PolitiFact has looked into deportation statistics under the Obama administration, but not since he’s started his second term. Let’s see how deportations under Obama compare to those under previous presidents.

Laura Vazquez, a senior immigration legislative analyst at La Raza, told us that Murguía was referring to deportation numbers from the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

ICE publishes yearly immigration statistics. However, ICE numbers lump together two separate statistics: removals and returns. Removals are formal orders to leave the country issued by a judge. A return is a more desirable option for Mexican nationals that allows them to leave the country without a restriction on when they can re-enter with a visa. There aren’t formal consequences attached with returns, and returns technically don’t count as "deportations,"according to Homeland Security themselves.

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Media outlets routinely cite ICE numbers. Here, we chose not to. Those numbers aren’t an accurate count of deportations, because they include returns. Also, ICE numbers don’t include deportations conducted by Border Patrol officers. So when we hear the word "deportations," the public’s definition doesn’t line up with how ICE defines the action.

Instead, we elected to reference the other common source for deportation numbers, Homeland Security’s Yearbook of Immigration Statistics. Here, we can count all the removals by fiscal year. This isn’t a perfect assessment, because presidents’ terms don’t start on the same day new fiscal years do. We only have access to this data through fiscal year 2012, so we can’t track Obama’s most recent deportations.

The more comprehensive Homeland Security data dates back to 1892. Here, we’ll take a closer look at deportations under Obama and other recent presidents. Deportations ramped up starting during the Clinton years.

President Fiscal years Total deportations Average deportations/year
Ronald Reagan 1981-1988 168,364 21,046
George Bush 1989-1992 141,326 35,332
Bill Clinton 1993-2000 869,646 108,706
George W. Bush 2001-2008 2,012,539 251,567
Barack Obama 2009-2012 1,582,756 395,689


On average, Obama is outpacing Bush by year. But since Obama hasn’t yet served two full terms, Bush has still overseen more deportations than any other president. Because ICE data is a year ahead of this chart, we can see how Murguía pegged Obama’s deportations at closer to 2 million.

The most recent spike in deportations started at the end of the George W. Bush administration, said Pew Research Center associate Ana Gonzalez Barrera. In 2007, Bush increased the consequences for people illegally crossing the border, a strategy Obama has continued so far.

Our ruling

Murguía defended her "deporter-in-chief" nickname for Obama by saying he’s deported more people than any other president. Her office pointed to a set of statistics that counts departures in a different way than what most people would think of as deportations. We looked at statistics that used more a literal definition of deportation. By that standard, Obama is on track to outpace Bush by the end of his term, but he’s not quite there yet, according to Homeland Security data. At nearly 1.6 million deportations, that's still some distance from "approaching 2 million."

It’s too soon to say that Obama has deported more people than any other president. But with the information available, it looks like he’s on track to do so. We rate her claim Half True.

Our Sources

Al Punto, "Janet Murguía afirmó que Obama es ‘el deportador en jefe,’ " March 9, 2014

Bloomberg, "Deportations drop as Obama pushes for new immigration law," Dec. 17, 2013

Email interview with Jessica Vaughn, Center for Immigration Studies director of policy studies, March 11, 2014

Email interview with Laura Vasquez, National Council of La Raza senior immigration legislative analyst, March 10, 2014

New York Times, "Deportation policy shift is signaled by Obama," March 14, 2014

Pew Research Center, "High rate of deportations continue under Obama despite Latino disapproval," Sept. 19, 2013

Phone interview with Ana Gonzalez Barrera, Pew research associate, March 12, 2014

Phone interview with Peter Boogaard, Department of Homeland Security press secretary, March 10, 2014

PolitiFact, "Has Barack Obama deported more people than any other president in U.S. history?" Aug. 10, 2012

PolitiFact, "Obameter: Introduce a comprehensive immigration bill in the first year," Aug. 13, 2010

PolitiFact Florida, "Marco Rubio fears Obama could ‘basically legalize’ all undocumented immigrants ‘by the sign of a pen,’ " Aug. 22, 2013

PolitiFact Florida, "More border security and patrols under Obama than previous presidents, says Debbie Wasserman Schultz," July 1, 2013

PolitiFact Florida, "Obama holds record for cracking down on employers who hire undocumented workers, says Wasserman Schultz," July 3, 2013

U.S. Department of Homeland Security, "Definition of terms - deportation," accessed March 17, 2014

U.S. Department of Homeland Security, "Yearbook of Immigration Statistics: 2012" Table 39, accessed March 17, 2014

U.S. Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement, "ICE total removals," Aug. 25, 2012

U.S. Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement, "FY 2013 ICE immigration removals," accessed March 17, 2014

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Activist Janet Murguía calls Obama 'deporter-in-chief,' says he has deported more immigrants than other presidents

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