Politics & Policy

Vox‘s Deportation Myths

Has the Obama administration really carried out “record” deportations of illegal aliens?

On March 11, Homeland Security secretary Jeh Johnson acknowledged to the House Appropriations Committee that claims of “record” deportations by the Obama administration that surpass the performance of earlier administrations were, to use the president’s words, “a little deceptive.” Under questioning from Representative John Culberson (R., Texas), Johnson admitted that most of the deportations credited to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency responsible for interior enforcement, were actually cases involving aliens caught in the act of entering illegally, which in prior administrations would have been credited to the Border Patrol.  

#ad#This was not news to NRO readers, because Andrew Stiles reported it a year ago. But Johnson’s admission came just as pro-amnesty activist groups, resigned to the reality that House Republicans were unlikely to pass the Senate’s immigration extravaganza, had ramped up a public campaign of vigils, hunger strikes, and sit-ins to showcase what they claimed was an unprecedented level of immigration enforcement that is splintering families.

Unfortunately, the reality of “mostly border removals” and “declining interior enforcement focused only on the most serious criminals,” as confirmed in ICE’s year-end report, does not conjure up the imagery needed to give credibility and urgency to the activists’ demands for a halt to “family-shattering” deportations. Nor does this reality satisfy House Republicans, who rightly insist on seeing more robust border and interior enforcement before considering any legalization program.

Rather than concede that President Obama has already given them much of what they wanted — a near-moratorium on interior deportations — they have opted to cling to the “Deporter-in-Chief” myth.

But the myth requires some explaining. What about all those border deportations? Is the administration’s performance record-breaking or not? Enter the Explainers-in-Chief at Vox, the new liberal information site. Vox hired immigration activist Dara Lind, formerly of America’s Voice, one of the shrillest pro-amnesty groups around, to do the explaining and hold the message together.

Lind’s explanations appear in two long articles on Vox. Like much of the other content on the site, they are full of deceptions and distortions. When official or common definitions don’t suit Lind, she makes up new ones. For example, she explains away the fact that the majority of deportations under Obama have been border arrests by suggesting that “border arrests” really means arrests of anyone living within 100 miles of the border. This is utterly false, as Patrick Brennan pointed out in his able critique of Vox.

Lind repeats the recurring, but dubious, claim that most of those deported as recidivists are simply trying to reunite with family members in the United States. However, the survey she cites to back up her statement actually undercuts that assumption. This survey reported that only 24 percent of the apprehended illegal border crossers who were interviewed (and who were mostly recidivists) said they were trying to rejoin family, and only 16 percent had been recently living in the United States. This is critical information, because the Department of Homeland Security is reportedly considering deprioritizing the deportation of repeat offenders, precisely on the grounds that they are simply rejoining family. Apparently it ain’t so, at least not for recent border crossers, who account for the majority of all deportations.

About that word “deportation” — Lind declares: “‘Deportation’ is no longer an official legal term.” This too is simply false. “Deportation” is defined in 8 U.S. Code 1101 and appears in other parts of the U.S. Code and immigration law that are still in force (if not enforced). The case-tracking systems of both ICE and the Border Patrol refer to at least eight versions of “deportation” as a form of case disposition, and they identified more than 100,000 “deportations” in their caseload last year, confirming that the term is alive and well in immigration enforcement.

Lind dives in over her head with an analysis of different forms of deportation. She concludes, based on bogus assumptions and thoroughly fictitious definitions that are too numerous to address here, that the only appropriate metric to assess enforcement is “removals,” which are one form of deportation. The Obama administration did in fact achieve a record number of removals in 2012. However, as Secretary Johnson stated, and as I demonstrated here, that record was achieved by counting border cases, which were never counted by previous administrations. Moreover, removals represent only one-third of all immigration-enforcement actions and thus do not tell the whole story of enforcement.

Ultimately, Lind is forced into a tortured and circular analysis that enables her to rationalize the Deporter-in-Chief moniker. Similar analyses have appeared in the New York Times, Huffington Post, Mother Jones, and other liberal opinion-leading outlets.

I imagine they have provided some comfort and cover to pro-amnesty activists, but they completely avoid addressing the public’s main concern when it comes to illegal aliens — namely, the collapse of interior immigration enforcement. No matter how you choose to measure it, there can be no denying that immigration enforcement in American communities has deteriorated significantly.

Under Obama-administration policies, interior arrests have dropped 40 percent since 2011, when aggressive enforcement-suppression policies, euphemistically called “prosecutorial discretion,” were imposed. ICE is now releasing more illegal aliens than it is arresting. In 2013, ICE agents reported encountering more than 700,000 illegal aliens, but they took action against less than 200,000 of them, letting the rest get off without charges. Among the many illegal aliens ICE agents were told to ignore were 68,000 with criminal records.

The administration’s failure to use its authority and resources to enforce the law is burdening American communities with crime and social-welfare costs, and enabling employers to bypass U.S. workers. Whether illegal immigrants are technically removed, returned, expelled, excluded, or deported is of little interest to Americans, as long as their numbers are greatly reduced, and that isn’t happening any more. Someone should explain that to Vox and its media colleagues.

— Jessica M. Vaughan is director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS).

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