As the media's deportation narrative shifts, even holdouts agree Obama's 'record' isn't what it once seemed

Updated: April 21st, 2014, 9:11 am


  by  Jeremy Beck

USA Today's April 15th story, "Obama deporter in chief? Not quite." by Alan Gomez is the most straightforward and succinct attempt to clarify President Obama's deportation record to date. Gomez writes:

Much has been made in recent weeks over President Obama's deportation record.

Critics say he's ignored his responsibility to enforce the nation's laws and allowed undocumented immigrants to roam free. Immigration advocates say he's escalated enforcement to a record-setting pace, tearing apart good, hard-working families in the process.

So which is it? A slew of news articles and think tank reports have used reams of deportation data to come up with wildly varying conclusions. But the fact is this: The number of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. deported by the Obama administration has fallen in each year he's been in office.

Deporter in chief? Far from it.

Emphasis mine. Gomez adds, "of the 12 million undocumented immigrants living in the country, fewer than 70,000 who have led generally peaceful lives here were deported last year." For those doing the math, that works out to about .00583 percent.

How does .00583 percent make a "record"? Gomez explains:

Yes, the Obama administration says it deports 400,000 people annually, recently passing the 2 million mark throughout the president's time in office. But the majority of those cases involve people caught by Border Patrol agents along the Southwest border and processed through Immigration and Customs Enforcement. In years past, those people would have been quickly shipped back to Mexico. But starting under President George W. Bush, many of those people are being handed over to ICE so that the agency can formally charge them.

USA Today is the latest major publication to pull back the curtain on the "record deportation" and "deporter in chief" claims but it certainly isn't alone. On April 1st, the Los Angeles Times reported:

Expulsions of people who are settled and working in the United States have fallen steadily since his first year in office, and are down more than 40% since 2009....

....the number of people deported at or near the border has gone up -- primarily as a result of changing who gets counted in the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency's deportation statistics.

On March 12th, the Washington Times reported:

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson acknowledged Tuesday that his department's deportation numbers are now mostly made up of illegal immigrants caught at the border, not just those from the interior, which means they can't be compared one-to-one with deportations under President Bush or other prior administrations.

Emphasis mine. The mainstream media is slowly adopting a new conventional wisdom on deportations. The narrative is changing. But there are holdouts. The Washington Post, for instance, has yet to acknowledge or address the revelations of how the Obama Administration juiced their numbers. The New York Times on the other hand is sticking with the "record" claim (defiantly so, one might say). But even the New York Times has had to add caveats to the "record deportation" narrative. One NYT story begrudgingly wrote: "Despite the record deportations, {Republicans} said {Obama's} shift in emphasis to the border had resulted in a decline in the removals from the interior of the country -- a trend borne out by the records."

Another New York Times story amusingly acknowledged "a major shift in enforcement geography." That story, "Court Deportations Drop 43 Percent in Past Five Years," by Julia Preston also reported that removals have declined in recent years, even with the boost from border apprehensions:

...lower numbers from the courts contributed to a drop in overall deportations last year, when enforcement agents made 368,644 removals, a 10 percent decrease from 2012.

Removals in 2014 are on pace to drop for the second year in a row, even with the added border apprehensions.

Expect the media's deportation narrative to continue to shift as more publications grapple with how to put the protests to stop all deportations - even for people caught entering the U.S. illegally - in the proper context of President Obama's actual record. Over the past couple of months, the mainstream media has widely accepted a few facts that would have been quickly dismissed just one year ago:

  1. More than half of removals under Obama are border apprehensions that wouldn't have been processed as removals by previous administrations;
  2. Removals have been declining for two years, even when you include the border apprehensions;
  3. Removals from the interior have declined 40 percent since Obama took office; and
  4. Total deportations (removals plus returns) under Obama are at the lowest levels in decades.

More on the media's deportation coverage here, here, here, here, here, and here.

JEREMY BECK is the Director of the Media Standards Project for NumbersUSA

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