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.
The numbers reveal a more nuanced picture than either side paints. The Obama Administration has deported immigrants in record numbers and, following on a high-consequence enforcement strategy instituted in the mid-2000s, has significantly increased the chances that an individual apprehended at the border will face consequences—namely, formal deportation. The administration has also shifted its enforcement emphasis to criminals and has escalated the use of administrative removal proceedings that authorize removals outside of traditional immigration courts. Faced with limited resources, the administration’s shift toward removing criminals and recent border crossers has been coupled with a decline in deportations of other individuals caught in the interior. As fewer deportation proceedings go through immigration courts, immigrants whose deportation is contested in court have become nearly twice as likely to win their case. Meanwhile, as immigration courts’ workload continues to increase faster than the number of judges, the backlog of immigration cases continues to grow.
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