Rep. Bob Goodlatte scoffs at any suggestion that President Barack Obama has been tough on immigration.
Amid news that a 32-year-old woman was allegedly murdered by a felon who had been deported repeatedly, Goodlatte said Obama has been soft on enforcing the country’s immigration laws.
"The actual deportations from the interior of the country are way down (under Obama)," Goodlatte, R-6th, said in an interview on ABC News.
Are deportations from the interior "way down" under Obama? We asked Goodlatte, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, for the source of his statement.
We heard back from Jessica Collins, the deputy communication director for the House Judiciary Committee. She pointed us to a 2014 memo that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement sent to the committee in response to questions about the federal agency’s figures on undocumented immigrants expelled from the U.S.
The agency’s figures show that in 2008, the year before Obama took office, there were 244,091 removals of illegal immigrants from the interior of the U.S., which the agency defines as anywhere away from the "immediate border" where an immigrant is barred from trying to enter the country illegally. In 2009, there were 237,941 interior removals in the first year of Obama’s term. That dropped to 133,551 by year 2013.
Those figures represent a broad group of deportations which include two main categories. One is "removals," where someone is ordered out of the country by a formal court order and prohibited from coming back for a period of time. The other category is "returns," where an immigrant voluntarily leaves the U.S., often in the absence of a formal order. That situation typically doesn’t carry harsh penalties if they return to the country.
The immigration agency further broke down its figures for the House panel, excluding simple returns and focusing on formal removals. In 2008, there were 171,540 of those removals from the interior. That rose to 175,702 in Obama’s first year in office in 2009 before falling to 110,781 in 2013.
In 2014, ICE said it conducted 102,224 removals. It’s not immediately clear from ICE’s latest report whether that 2014 figure includes only formal removals mandated by an order, or whether it includes removals and returns. But either way you look at the figures, interior deportations have fallen between 40 and 60 percent during Obama’s term.
Four immigration policy analysts we talked to agreed that interior deportations dropped off under Obama.
Marc Rosenblum, the deputy director of the U.S. Immigration Policy Program at the Migration Policy Institute, said those deportations really dropped off in recent years as a result of the Obama shifting enforcement away from immigrants who didn’t fall into certain groups flagged for high priority for deportation.
The White House is focused on people apprehended at the border and on other priority targets such as immigrants charged with a various crimes or deemed to be a threat to public safety, Rosenblum said.
"While they’ve been scaling back interior removals, they’ve been increasing border removals," Rosenblum told us.
A July report by the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington think tank founded by a group of Democratic and Republican senators, illustrated that switch.
In 2008, about two-thirds of ICE’s 369,000 removals were from the interior, while the other third were from the border. That proportion started to change a couple of years ago and by 2014, about one-third of the agency’s 316,000 removals were from the interior while the other two-thirds were from the border.
Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration analyst at the libertarian Cato Institute, wrote in a January blog post, that while interior removals have fallen in recent years under Obama, they remain high compared to former President George W. Bush. Looking at the last six years of the former president’s tenure, Nowrasteh said there were an average of 79,000 removed from the interior annually under Bush, compared with an average of 158,000 during the first six years of Obama’s term.
But one problem in comparing the two administrations, Nowrasteh noted, is that there were a chunk of cases each year under Bush in which it was unclear from where in the U.S. an immigrant had been deported.
Goodlatte said deportations are "way down" under Obama.
The figures he cites show a significant drop during Obama’s term, a trend confirmed by several by immigration analysts we interviewed.
We rate his statement True.