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Immigration Enforcement Since 9/11: A Reality Check

 

In the decade since the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) were created in the wake of 9/11/01, senior officials in these agencies have repeatedly asserted that their primary enforcement mission was to deport terrorists, persons who threatened the national security and serious criminals from the United States.An examination of millions of case-by-case government records about the day-to-day actions of the DHS and ICE, however, has determined that these frequent claims — made by senior executives under both President Bush and President Obama — are misleading.The contrast between the official pronouncements and actual achievements of the government during the last twenty years has been documented in an analysis by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) of case-by-case records of all deportation proceedings[1] initiated by ICE, and its predecessor agency (the Immigration and Naturalization Service, or INS), in the Immigration Courts.

The data — current through July 26, 2011 — were obtained by TRAC under the Freedom of Information Act from the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) which maintains these official immigration court records.

What The Government Has Done

Key findings from these government records are:

A decade-by-decade comparison of all removal proceedings initiated in the Immigration Courts seeking to deport individuals from the United States shows substantial growth — from 1.6 million in the decade before 9/11 to 2.3 million in the ten years after.


Figure 1. Decade Before vs. Decade After 9/11:
U.S. Deportation Proceedings in Immigration
Courts by Charge (click for larger image).

But a comparison of the kinds of deportation proceedings in both the pre-and-post 9/11 periods documents that the actual numbers of those aimed at criminals, national security threats and terrorists have all declined rather than increased (see Figure 1). On the other hand, the total number of those charged with purely immigration violations has sharply increased — 1.2 million before the attacks, 1.9 million after.

Deportation proceedings on terrorist or national security grounds, always an extremely rare event, have become even rarer (see Figure 1). In the decade before the 9/11 attacks, for example, there were a grand total of 88 matters involving terrorism charges. For the ten years after 9/ll there were 37 such cases.

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