For all the grief President Obama has taken over his immigration policy—Republicans say he's a wimp, Democrats say he's not compassionate enough—one fact has emerged during his term so far. He's deported about 18 percent more illegal immigrants than former President George W. Bush did in his last two years in office. And he's on par to have given the boot to nearly 1.5 million immigrants by the time this term is done.
Regarding her department's deportations, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano says "you get yanked from both sides" when it comes to immigration policy.
Lately, the yank has been from critics upset with new guidelines that will have Homeland Security review illegal immigrants on a case-by-case basis to push convicted criminals out of the country while letting others stay. And they probably won't be happy with the latest deportation statistics. According to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, deportations of convicted criminals so far this fiscal year (October 2010-May 2011) are down to 122,019 from 130,051 for the same period last year. Overall deportations are also down, to 248,821 from 254,047 for the same period last year. [Read Obama's four roadblocks to immigration reform.]
But according to Napolitano and the Center for American Progress, the administration is beginning to master the battle of the border. Napolitano says the southwest border is the safest in years and that the new policy should result in a big shift in deportations of criminals. Part of the reason, says the center, is the spending focus on the border: Since late 2007, the Customs and Border Protection workforce has jumped 32 percent; Border Patrol agents have surged from 14,923 to 21,370; and the share of miles on the southwest border under "operational control" has increased since 2006 to 44 percent, or 873 miles.
For now, Napolitano seems satisfied. She says if Congress wants more than 400,000 or so immigrants deported yearly, it needs to cough up more money. But she indicates that there's enough to remove the bad eggs. "If we come to the point where we are unable to remove everybody we know has a threat to security or has a criminal record, violated criminal laws, or that we've caught right at the border, or is a fugitive, or has multiple re-entries and we don't have the resources to remove those, then the Congress should look at the resources they give us," she says. [Read about the obstacles Obama faces on immigration.]
But she didn't play down the threat that illegal immigrants, estimated at 12 million, are to the nation. "Let's not minimize," she says. "Almost half of the 400,000 people we deported last year had a criminal record of some sort."