President Barack Obama’s deportation rate has reached a record once again, but in the other direction.
Fewer immigrants were deported in the last year than ever during the Obama administration, according to the Los Angeles Times, which obtained a draft report by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The newspaper noted that the drop – deportations were down by 14 percent – occurred despite a rise in the number of people who illegally crossed the U.S.-Mexico border.
In raw numbers, that means ICE removed 315,943 people in the last fiscal year, which runs Oct. 1, 2013 through Sept. 30, 2014.
The rise in border crossings was very likely caused by a surge of unaccompanied minors arriving illegally from Central America in that period, the newspaper said.
That may have had an impact on the lower rate of deportations as well, since many immigration and border workers had their hands full trying to keep up with processing the thousands of children, and taking care of them.
At the same time, however, the Obama administration – which long has been under fire by advocates of more lenient immigration policies for its record number of deportations, more than 2 million – made a concerted effort to shift its enforcement focus to criminals and repeat border crossers.
The Times observed that the drop in deportations “is likely to give new ammunition to Republicans who accuse the administration of lax enforcement, although it could also boost the president's standing in Latino communities.”
The Times quoted Rep. Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, which oversees immigration enforcement, as saying that the deportation figures demonstrate "lax interior enforcement policies.”
"We essentially tell citizens of other countries, 'If you come here, you can stay — don't worry, we won't deport you,'" McCaul said in a statement to The Times. "The reality on the ground is that unless you commit multiple crimes, the chances of your being removed from this country are close to zero."
Most of the immigrants deported were from Mexico, followed by Guatemala and Honduras.
"ICE remains focused on smart and effective immigration enforcement that prioritizes the removal of convicted criminals and recent border entrants," said Gillian Christensen, the agency's press secretary, to the Times. "There is no set mandated removal number."
Last month, Obama unveiled an executive order that could spare up to five million undocumented immigrants from deportations for about three years. And that, experts say, is likely to drop the rate of deportations further.
Obama said his new executive order would expand a 2012 initiative, which originally gave a two-year reprieve from deportation to immigrants who had come to the United States illegally before they were 16, who were no older than 31, had no criminal record, and met other criteria. The new executive order lifts the age cap of 31, and extends the deportation relief, as well as the accompanying eligibility to get a work permit, to many other undocumented immigrants, including parents of U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents.
On Thursday, the House passed a GOP bill that blocks the executive order from being implemented. But political observers say the move is largely symbolic because it will not get passage in the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats.
Christensen of ICE added that a factor also influencing the drop in deportations is that fewer local and state law enforcement authorities are holding people they arrest for immigration agents to interview them and take them into their custody.
Such practices also came under criticism by many political leaders and immigrant advocates, who argued that people who were not public safety threats were being turned over to immigration, eroding trust between ethnic communities and local police.