Opinions on the extent to which the U.S. enforces immigration laws vary dramatically. Some contend that enforcement is already extremely tough, while others contend that the government fails to enforce immigration law. Rarely are these claims backed by more than one or two statistics.
Based on a long series of Freedom of Information Act requests, the Transactional Record Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) keeps records of immigration enforcement statistics. Their numbers paint a more nuanced picture than either side’s advocates, but leave major holes that available data appear unable to fill.
The common claim that the Obama administration deports unauthorized immigrants in record numbers is true. The figure below reports the total number of removals each fiscal year between 1980 and 2011. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) defines a removal as “the compulsory and confirmed movement of an inadmissible or deportable alien out of the United States based on an order of removal.” These numbers do not include individuals that were “turned back” at the border—only individuals who went through either an administrative or judicial removal process.
Figure 1. Number of alien removals, FY 1980—2011
Source: Department of Homeland Security, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, 2011.