As the Obama Administration comes to an end and its legacy on immigration is solidified, one of the defining characteristics of the President’s eight years in office will be how he enforced immigration laws. One of the strongest indicators of that will be how many individuals he actually removed and returned out of the country.
Last week, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued its Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 immigration enforcement data which, coupled with the previous years’ totals under the Obama Administration, show that the total number of removals from FY 2009 to FY 2016 totaled more than 2.7 million. Simply stated, President Obama has deported more people than any other president in U.S. history.
However, underneath those numbers belie some important lessons about the changing dynamics of who is showing up at the U.S. border and how a November 2014 enforcement priorities memo shaped the number of people deported from the interior of the nation.
First, the FY 2016 numbers show that DHS apprehended a total of 530,250 individuals nationwide and conducted a total of 450,954 removals and returns. These include individuals apprehended as they attempted to cross the border and people removed from the interior of the country.
Border Patrol alone apprehended a total of 415,816, which include individuals who attempted to enter the country at a port of entry. This represents an increase of 23 percent from 2015 but is still lower than FY2013 and 2014. In fact, these numbers remain at historically low levels not seen since the early 1970s. Also, not only are the numbers of border-crossers shrinking, but the demographics of those who are arriving have changed.
As DHS previously noted:
“…the demographics of illegal migration on our southern border has changed significantly over the last 15 years – far fewer Mexicans and single adults are attempting to cross the border without authorization, but more families and unaccompanied children are fleeing poverty and violence in Central America. In 2014, Central Americans apprehended on the southern border outnumbered Mexicans for the first time. In 2016, it happened again.”
This means, more would-be-asylees are arriving at the U.S. border, rather than economic migrants as in years’ past. Yet, many are being denied asylum or put through expedited deportation processes, both unworthy of the nation’s commitment to protect those in need.
Also of note, the number of individuals picked up and deported from the interior of the country is on the decline, likely due to the 2014 enforcement priorities memo that sought to avoid deporting individuals who posed no threat and have strong economic and community ties in the U.S.
In FY 2016, 65,332 removals were of individuals apprehended by ICE officers in the interior of the country, away from the border, compared to 102,224 in FY 2014, the Fiscal Year before the new enforcement priorities were put in place.
The two largest lessons found in the FY 2016 data are that we have a serious refugee situation at our border that is not being dealt with in a humane and fair way and interior enforcement is finally beginning to take into account who a public threat is while providing some grace to those members of our communities who seek to do us no harm and are contributing to the good of the nation.