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2015 Deportations Dropped to Lowest Since 2006

by Derek Gilna

A 2016 report issued by the Department of Homeland Security said that deportations carried out in 2015 by the agency's Immigration and Customs and Enforcement (ICE) had dropped to the lowest level since 2006. According to DHS, deportations peaked in fiscal year 2009 at 409,849, but dropped in fiscal year 2015 to 235,413.

After 9/11, ICE's budget and enforcement staff skyrocketed as the federal government prioritized border security, adding thousands of detention beds that Congress mandated that the agency fill, increasing pressure to arrest and deport the undocumented.

Starting in 2002, deportations, or "removals," the term the agency prefers to use in its report, quickly moved from under 50,000 to six digits, quickly climbing to 369,221 in 2008, and increasing every year until 2012. 

Then, under intense political pressure, President Obama in 2014 attempted to reprioritize a system that snared many non-violent undocumented as well as more violent criminals. A series of executive order starting in November of that year called for a retargeting of individuals with felony criminal convictions, but, as the American Immigration Council noted, "DHS' enforcement priorities are still too broad and ensnare people who have been criminalized for civil immigration violations or are low-level offenders."

Also blurring DHS and ICE enforcement priorities are other executive orders whose purpose was to stay enforcement of undocumented individuals via "deferred action," a controversial policy recently stayed by a federal appeals court.  Nonetheless, deportations in 2015 dropped from their 2014 levels by almost one-third.

DHS and ICE both say that their priority is to concentrate their efforts on the undocumented who are violent and dangerous, but even the current, reduced level of deportations includes many individuals who do not fall into that category. Of the 2015 figure, almost 70,000 were interior removals, of whom 64,000 had been convicted of a crime.  Almost 166,000 individuals were apprehended at or near the border. Almost 100,000 of this latter figure had no previous criminal record.

Mexico continues to be the leading source of undocumented immigration, although in recent years the percentage of individuals from Central American countries like Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras continues to climb. The percentage of Mexican apprehensions has dropped 68 percent, and Central American apprehension also appear to have peaked, partly as a result of Mexican authorities increasing their enforcement activity within their own country. As a result, according to DHS, the number of undocumented individuals attempting to cross the southern border of the U.S. is at a 40-year low.


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