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Obama as border cop: He's deported record numbers of illegal immigrants

New data suggest that the dramatic rise in deportations for illegal immigrants since 9/11 has continued under President Obama, hitting record levels in 2009.

By Lourdes MedranoCorrespondent / August 12, 2010

A suspect (l.) in Phoenix is fingerprinted by a Maricopa Country sheriff's detention officer on July 26 to check his immigration status. The federal government is rapidly expanding a program to identify illegal immigrants using fingerprints from arrests.

Ross D. Franklin/AP/file


Tucson, Ariz.

A parade of states led by Arizona says the federal government is not doing enough to combat illegal immigration. But by one measure – deportations – the federal government is doing more than it has ever done.

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In 2009, the United States deported a record 387,790 people – a 5 percent increase over 2008. Nearly two months before the end of the 2010 federal fiscal year, the deportation rate is down slightly from 2009, but the number of removals is still likely to be more than triple what it was in 2001.

The numbers come from a recently released study by Syracuse University in New York. Among the other significant findings: An increasing share of deportees are immigrants who have been convicted of a crime, reflecting President Obama's desire to reorient the deportation process toward targeting criminals.

Critics of Mr. Obama worry that the focus on criminals could mean a pass for most noncriminal illegal immigrants. They also note that deportation alone does not represent a comprehensive immigration policy. But the deportation trend does run counter to many perceptions in border states and beyond about federal anti-illegal immigration efforts.

“We have never, ever deported so many people from the country as we are doing now,” says Douglas Massey, an immigration expert at Princeton University in New Jersey.

The only other time deportations came close to existing levels was in the early 1930s, during quasi-official deportation campaigns against Mexicans. Expulsions peaked at 136,000 in 1931 and "were done primarily by local officials and don't show up in federal statistics on deportations,” Professor Massey says.

Behind the rise: 9/11

The current deportation boom began in the mid-1990s and accelerated after the 9/11 attacks. Since coming into office, Obama has begun to recast this trend.

In 2008 and 2009, for instance, the majority of removals were people who had not been convicted of any crime, according to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) data. Through Aug. 2, 51 percent of the 294,230 people deported or forced out this fiscal year were convicted criminals.

The report by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse is based on ICE data. It comes as the Obama administration endures strong criticism from state lawmakers and conservative pundits who say the federal government has done little to clamp down on illegal immigration and to secure the border.