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Immigration Task Force

ISSUE BRIEF:

Interior Immigration Enforcement by the Numbers MAY 2013 Opinions on the extent to which the United States enforces immigration laws vary dramatically. Some contend that enforcement is already extremely tough, while others contend that the government fails to enforce immigration law. Rarely are these claims backed by more than one or two statistics. Based on a long series of Freedom of Information Act requests, the Transactional Record Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) keeps records of immigration enforcement statistics. Their numbers paint a more nuanced picture than either side’s advocates but leave major holes that available data appear unable to fill.

Removals (Deportations) The common claim that the Obama administration deports unauthorized immigrants in record numbers is true. Figure 1 reports the total number of removals each fiscal year between 1980 and 2011. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) defines a removal as “the compulsory and confirmed movement of an inadmissible or deportable alien out of the United States based on an order of removal.” These numbers do not include individuals that were “turned back” at the border—only individuals who went through either an administrative or judicial removal process.

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393,457

385,100

391,953

2010

2011

359,795

2009

246,431

280,974

240,665

2005

189,026 2001

211,098

188,467

165,168

183,114

2000

50,924 1995

174,813

45,674 1994

69,680

43,671

42,542 1993

33,189

25,829 1988

1992

24,336 1987

1991

24,592 1986

34,427

23,105 1985

30,039

19,211

18,696 1984

15,216

1983

1982

50,000

18,013

100,000

17,379

150,000

1990

200,000

114,432

250,000

1999

300,000

1998

350,000

2004

400,000

1981

Number of Deportations

450,000

319,382

Figure 1. Number of alien removals, FY1980–2011

2008

2007

2006

2003

2002

1997

1996

1989

1980

0

Source: Department of Homeland Security, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, 2011.

It is important to note, however, that looking at only the number of deportations can be misleading. The number of new removals ordered in immigration court has dropped each year that President Obama has been in office, as has the number of deportation proceedings.

49,462

102,727

129,458

157,432

100,000

137,756

154,897

145,144

126,883

114,630

108,728

108,728

106,739

150,000

120,005

Number of Cases

200,000

137,305

250,000

198,949

198,137

Figure 2. Number of removals ordered in immigration courts, FY1998–2013

50,000

-

Source: TRAC. * FY2013 figures include only October through April.

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100,000

239,031

211,173

246,996

225,402

228,795

213,867

285,933 195,669

179,597

175,904

163,996

200,215

188,938

190,114

159,082

160,683

89,833

150,000

130,588

200,000

117,788

250,000

89,944

Number of Cases

300,000

204,717

350,000

231,603

Figure 3. Number of deportation proceedings in immigration courts, FY1992–2013

50,000 -

Source: TRAC. * FY2013 figures include only October through April.

Like the total number of deportations, court actions do not tell the whole story. This is because not all deportations are a result of immigration court cases. Table 1 suggests that a large and increasing share of deportations occur without ever going to immigration court. TRAC advances two potential reasons for this, but explains that data are not sufficient to parse between them: 1. Reinstated orders. Already-deported immigrants who reenter the country illegally do not get a new deportation order, but they are deported again. In May 2012, 34.7 percent of all deportations were reinstated orders. 2. Administrative removals. Not all types of deportation require a hearing. For example, immigrants previously convicted of aggravated felonies may be removed administratively. Removals that never reach court still count as deportations, but do not appear in statistics about immigration courts. *

Incomplete data. Elsewhere, TRAC has alleged that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) does not release sufficient data to resolve some perceived data inconsistencies.

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Table 1. Immigration court orders versus actual deportations, FY2010–2012 MONTHLY AVERAGE

FISCAL YEAR

COURT DEPORTATION ORDERS

ACTUAL DEPORTATIONS

RATIO

2012 (Oct.–May)

11,339

34,321

33%

2011

13,313

33,076

40%

2010

13,764

32,739

42%

Source: TRAC.

Among those deportation cases that do reach immigration court, the share that end in an allowance to stay in the United States has risen dramatically (Figure 4). This rapid increase may be due in part to President Obama’s deferred action program, which allows “DREAMers” (unauthorized immigrants brought to the United States as children) to avoid deportation. Additionally, if the government is deporting more immigrants administratively, it could follow that individuals who reach immigration court now tend to have less serious criminal backgrounds. Data presented later (Figure 6) suggest that this is plausible.

45.1

Figure 4. Percent of deportation cases ending in allowance to stay in the United States, FY1998–2013 50 37.4

45

20

29.8

29.4 23.8

24.3

27.5 23

25.4

25.1

26

25.1 19.5

25

25.6

30

30.1

35

25.7

Percent of Cases

40

15 10 5 0

Source: TRAC. * FY2013 figures include only October through April.

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Spending Money provides another measure of the U.S. government’s commitment to interior enforcement. ICE is the principal DHS office responsible for interior enforcement of U.S. immigration law. Its budget increased rapidly since 2005, but it has dropped slightly since the recession began having major budget impacts in FY2009.

$4

$5.74

$5.86

$5.80

$5.93

$5.74

$4.73

$5

$4.21

$6

$3.56

Total Budget (Billions of Dollars)

$7

$5.58

Figure 5. ICE budget, FY2005–2013

$3 $2 $1 $0 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013

Source: TRAC (2005–2010), DHS (2011–2012), CRS (2013) Note: 2005–2010 figures represent total expenditures. 2011–2012 represent enacted budget. 2013 represents pre-sequester enacted budget.

Criminal Activity The extent to which the government deports immigrants accused of crimes (other than entering or remaining in the United States without authorization) often rises to prominence in the immigration debate. Since 2008, the share of deportation orders sought in immigration court due to criminal activity has fallen. As explained above, however, many immigrants who have been found guilty of aggravated felonies are deported without ever going to immigration court. Notably, the data below only represent situations in which ICE cites criminal activity as a basis for deportation. For some immigrants with criminal histories, ICE may choose to cite other reasons in its pursuit of deportation. According to TRAC, ICE has stated that it “cannot reliably identify” the total number of cases in which the immigrant had a criminal history. As with the issue of deportation proceedings above, the available data are not equipped to answer all questions.

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14.47%

14.41%

15.37%

15.41%

16.00%

15.30%

16.18%

17.49%

17.30%

16.28%

15.89%

15.91%

15.52%

14.35%

Percent of Cases

16%

15.07%

18%

15.00%

20%

17.48%

Figure 6. Deportation orders sought in immigration court based on alleged criminal activity, January 2008–March 2012

14% 12%

10% 8% 6% 4% 2% 0%

Source: TRAC. * Preliminary counts.

A more detailed version of Figure 6 is available here. Similarly, the number of criminal prosecutions from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and ICE referrals has fallen in recent years. The table below displays the number of criminal prosecutions over the previous 12 months.

Table 2. Trend in criminal prosecutions from referrals to CBP and ICE, January 2009–August 2012 (previous 12 months) PERCENT CHANGE OVER PREVIOUS 12 MONTHS

CBP

ICE

TOTAL

Jan. 2009

79,495

18,466

97,961

Aug. 2009

79,513

19,034

98,547

0.60%

Aug. 2010

73,100

19,514

92,614

-6.02%

Aug. 2011

69,150

20,989

90,139

-2.67%

Aug. 2012

63,701

17,795

81,496

-9.59%

Source: TRAC.

In ICE detention centers, the majority of immigrants have a criminal conviction. Table 3 displays the top-ten most serious convictions for those with a criminal conviction, and the source table displays the most serious conviction for all those who were in in ICE detention centers as of October 2011.

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Table 3. Most serious charge for ICE detainees by frequency, October 2011 NUMBER

PERCENT

Total

32,298

No Criminal Conviction Recorded

13,185

40.8%

Criminal Conviction Recorded

19,113

59.2%

RANK

MOST SERIOUS CHARGE FOR THOSE WITH CRIMINAL CONVICTION(S)

NUMBER

PERCENT

1

Driving Under Influence, Liquor

2,580

13.5%

2

Traffic Offense

1,344

7.0%

3

Marijuana, Possession

1,038

5.4%

4

Cocaine, Possession

979

5.1%

5

Dangerous Drugs

909

4.8%

6

Assault

888

4.6%

7

Larceny

735

3.8%

8

Cocaine, Sell

556

2.9%

9

Illegal Entry (INA SEC.101(a)(43)(O), 8USC1325 only)

528

2.8%

10

Robbery

488

2.6%

Source: TRAC.

Court Backlog S. 744, the current immigration proposal, mandates the appointment of additional immigration judges. This could help clear the large and growing backlog in immigration courts. This backlog could be part of ICE’s motivation for bypassing immigration courts at a higher rate (presuming, as data suggest, that the agency is actually doing so). Between 1998 and 2013, the backlog of cases in immigration courts increased by more than 150 percent. The increase may be partly attributable to Operation Streamline, which began in December 2005 in the Del Rio Border Patrol Sector. The operation requires that “all prosecutable aliens, regardless of nationality, apprehended within the geographic boundaries be prosecuted.” Since that time, Border Patrol has initiated several similar operations across the southwest border, and the number of pending cases has nearly doubled.

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150,000

186,108

174,935

168,827

184,211

167,543

169,598

166,061

149,338

125,734

200,000

129,505

250,000

123,061

Number of Cases

300,000

223,809

330,533

325,044

297,551

350,000

262,799

Figure 7. Number of pending cases in immigration courts, FY1998–2013

100,000 50,000 -

Source: TRAC. * FY2013 figures as of April 2013.

During the same period, the average processing time for immigration courts increased by nearly 175 percent.

Figure 8. Immigration court processing time for all types of charges 504

600

283

234

231

243

228

228

283

282

250

234

311

404 200

238

300

225

400

184

Number of Days

500

100 0

Source: TRAC. * FY2013 figures include only October through April.

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An Incomplete Picture As noted above, deportations and ICE funding have hit record numbers in recent years. On its face, this suggests that immigration enforcement has increased as well. However, court activity around deportations has fallen, and unauthorized immigrants who reach immigration court now stand a much better chance of being allowed to stay in the United States. Unfortunately, ICE has not released data that fully explain how these trends fit together. Data suggest that the Obama administration’s use of immigration courts in deportation proceedings is declining. However, it is unclear how much of this is due to the deportation of previously deported individuals, to the increased use of administrative proceedings, or to some other factors. In turn, this makes it difficult to determine how heavily ICE emphasizes the deportation of criminals. TRAC, which has endeavored to make these data public for years, has issued strongly worded rebukes of the quality and quantity of data that ICE maintains and provides. It is certain that the Obama administration has deported unauthorized immigrants in record numbers and that immigration courts have become much more likely to allow immigrants to stay in the United States. The largest take away, though, may be that the available information makes interior enforcement difficult to assess.

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Interior Immigration Enforcement by the Numbers