Immigrant removals continue to decline under Obama

Published 10:04 am Wednesday, April 29, 2015

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is on pace to deport the fewest number of immigrantsin nearly a decade, according to internal government data obtained by The Associated Press.

As of April 20, federal immigration officials sent home 127,378 people in the United States illegally. That puts immigrant removals on track to be among the lowest since the middle of President George W. Bush’s second term.

The internal statistics reveal a continuing decline in deportations even as the Obama administration fights a legal challenge to a plan it announced late last year to shield millions of immigrants from deportations.

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“With the resources we have … I’m interested in focusing on criminals and recent illegal arrivals at the border,” Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee during an oversight hearing Tuesday.

The new figures, contained in weekly internal reports not publicly reported, average about 19,730removals a month for the first six months of the government’s fiscal year that began in October.

If that trend continues, the government will remove about 236,000 by September — the lowest figure since 2006, when 207,776 were sent home.

Removals have been declining for nearly three years after Immigration and Customs Enforcement recorded a record 409,849 removals in 2012. That federal agency, known as ICE, is responsible for finding and removing immigrants living in the country illegally.

President Barack Obama announced a plan in November that would protect millions of immigrants living in the country illegally, but that effort is on hold after a federal judge in Texas blocked its implementation.

Meanwhile, the Homeland Security Department has continued to slow removals, and a program launched in 2012 to protect young immigrants from deportation remains in place.

Johnson has directed immigration authorities anew to focus on finding and deporting immigrants who pose a national security or public safety threat, those who have serious criminal records and those who have recently crossed the Mexican border. Roughly 11 million immigrants are thought to be living in the country illegally.

Johnson confirmed Tuesday that removals have decreased but did not provide the committee with specific numbers. He said a variety of factors, including a corresponding drop in arrests of immigrantscaught crossing the border, have led to the drop.