In his first year in office, President Barack Obama sent more than 400,000 illegal immigrants — mostly from Mexico and Central America — packing.
Obama’s deportation rate in the first several years of his presidency gave him the infamous title of “deporter-in-chief,” and startled supporters who wanted greater amnesty for illegal immigrants.
But new numbers from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) reveal just how much this has changed in the past eight years.
As Obama prepares to leave his post at the White House, deportations are nearly at an 8-year low. In 2016, just over 240,000 people were deported from the US, roughly 60,000 of whom were deported from the “interior” of the country (more than 100 miles from the Mexican border). A large majority of the people deported were sent back immediately upon crossing the border.
Deportation numbers are a notoriously slippery topic, as the Los Angeles Times revealed in 2014. Up until the George W. Bush administration, illegal immigrants apprehended at the border and sent back home were not included in ICE statistics. In the 1990s, up to 1 million immigrants per year were sent back over the border, but were not officially considered to have been deported.
This means that the seemingly exponential increase in deportation numbers under Obama could have more to do with a change in the bookkeeping on immigration than with the policies themselves.
“In the Obama years, all of the increase in deportations has involved people picked up within 100 miles of the border,” the Times wrote. “At the same time, the administration largely ended immigration roundups at workplaces.”
Only 65,300 of the immigrants who were deported from the US in 2016 lived in the country’s interior, compared to four times that in 2009.
The release of these staggering statistics comes at a time when president-elect Donald Trump has vowed to deport 2 to 3 million illegal immigrants with criminal records.
But according to estimates, there may not be that many undocumented immigrants with criminal records in the entire country. According to the Migration Policy Institute, there were an estimated 820,000 undocumented immigrants with criminal records in the US.
Many of the immigrants with criminal records were convicted for “illegal entry and reentry,” a non-violent offense.
Another group of immigrants who face an uncertain future under Trump are the more than 700,000 “Dreamers” in the US. “Dreamers” are the children of undocumented immigrants who grew up in the United States and have been given temporary amnesty under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Act.
As Obama enters his final days in office, pressure to put measures into place to protect these young immigrants is mounting, ABC reports.
While he does have the ability to pardon the “Dreamers,” it would be an unprecedented political move. But regardless of what he does or does not do, the next two weeks could go a long way in determining Obama’s still-unclear immigration policy.