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In 2015, Deportations Reached Lowest Level Since 2006

A fog slowly lifts over the Rio Grande, which divides the United States from Mexico.
John Moore
Getty Images
A fog slowly lifts over the Rio Grande, which divides the United States from Mexico.

In 2015, the United States' Immigration and Customs Enforcement deported fewer people than it has since 2006.

According to new numbers released by the Department of Homeland Security, 235,413 people were deported by ICE in fiscal year 2015. According to the AP, that's the lowest number recorded by the Obama administration and the lowest number deported since George W. Bush was president.

In a statement, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson said the drop in deportations can be mostly explained by two, big factors: The administration is " prioritizing convicted criminals and threats to public safety" and the number of people apprehended trying to cross the border illegally has dropped dramatically to the "second lowest apprehension number since 1972, reflecting a lower level of attempted illegal migration at our borders."

As we've reported, the Obama administration has been derided by both sides of the aisle when it comes to its efforts on immigration. Republicans say President Obama can't be trusted to secure the border and the National Council of La Raza famously dubbed Obama the nation's "deporter-in-chief."

The numbers paint a picture of an administration that has continued the trend of tougher enforcement that began after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

In 2013, for example, the Obama administration deported a record high 438,000 undocumented immigrants. That's about 78,000 more than in 2008, the last full fiscal year of the Bush administration.

Of course, comparing historical records is complicated by the fact that President Bush changed a key policy that affects these numbers in a big way.

In 2006, the Bush administration ended the "catch and release" practice and began booking — and, thus, counting immigrants — who were caught near the border and were then quickly deported. Obama continued that practice.

As The Los Angeles Times reported in 2014, previous administrations did not count that number so comparing enforcement records prior to 2006 is tough.

The numbers released today do not include those people deported by Customs and Border Protection, which could add tens of thousands to the total.

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Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.