NDN Blog

NDN Analysis: Total Removals, Returns of Unauthorized Immigrants Plummet Under Obama

Over the past several months, NDN/NPI has published a series of analyses which argue that through greater investment, better strategies and deeper cooperation with Mexico, the Obama Administration has made the immigration system better and the border safer while seeing a dramatic expansion of trade with Mexico. 

Today we release a simple analysis which sheds new light on the hotly debated issue of deportations.  Using a broader, more accurate measure of the number of unauthorized immigrants removed from the country since the first year of the Bush Presidency, we find that in fact the total number of “removals[i]” and “returns[ii]” has actually plummeted during the Obama Presidency.  In 2012, the Obama Administration removed and returned almost a million people less than the height of the Bush Presidency.  And every year of the Obama Presidency has seen a sizable decline in the total number of unauthorized migrants removed or returned to their countries (See this piece by the WSJ's Laura Meckler discussing the report). 

Unauthorized Migrants Removed or Returned, FY 2001-2012[iii]

Total DHS Returns and Removals, FY 2001-2012[iv]

So while we do not yet have the full picture of 2013, it is unlikely that the total number of removals and returns increased, as the total number of “removals” (deportations) measured by ICE fell by ten percent from 409,849 to 368,644 from FY 2012 to 2013.

For years, NDN has argued that the Obama Administration’s management of its border and immigration enforcement responsibilities deserves far more praise it has received.  Despite deeply rancorous politics, a very real set of operational and security challenges, and the Republicans’ refusal to adopt long overdue and thoughtful reform, things in the border region are clearly better today.  Crime on the US side of the border is down; net migration is zero today; only 10,000 or so non-border-crosser non-criminal unauthorized migrants were deported in 2013; while US trade with Mexico has almost doubled.  It is our belief that history will declare the Administration’s management of this tough basket of issues a resounding policy success.  For more on this record of success and progress, see below. 

Obama Administration Immigration and Border Enforcement: Key Stats

  • Crime is down along the US side of the border.  The two largest border cities, El Paso and San Diego, are the two safest large cities in America today.
  • Four of the five high-traffic migration corridors across the US-Mexico border are already at or near the Senate bill’s goal of a 90% effectiveness rate.
  • Net migration from Mexico has fallen from its 2001 peak of 770,000 people per year to zero today.
  • Since President Obama took office, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has made steps to prioritize removing criminals and recent border crossers. ICE reports that in FY 2013, 82% of the unauthorized immigrants it arrested and removed from the interior US had a criminal conviction.  About two thirds of all 2013 ICE removals were people arrested at the border. Of 368,644 removals, only 10,336 individuals were not convicted of a crime, repeat immigration violators, immigration fugitives, or at the border.
  • In 2012 the Obama Administration implemented Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) to allow about one million DREAMers, unauthorized immigrants brought to the US as youths, to work and study legally in the US.
  • Trade with Mexico has jumped from $340 billion in 2009 to about $550 billion in 2013.  Mexico is America’s 3rd largest trading partner, and 2nd largest export market.  $1.3 billion worth of goods and 1 million people cross the 2000 mile US-Mexico border each day.

[i] “Removals are the compulsory and confirmed movement of an inadmissible or deportable alien out of the United States based on an order of removal. An alien who is removed has administrative or criminal consequences placed on subsequent reentry owing to the fact of the removal” (DHS).

[ii] “Returns are the confirmed movement of an inadmissible or deportable alien out of the United States not based on an order of removal” (DHS).

[iii] Source: U.S. Department of Homeland Security, ENFORCE Alien Removal Module (EARM), February 2013; Enforcement Integrated Database (EID), November 2012.

[iv] Source: U.S. Department of Homeland Security, ENFORCE Alien Removal Module (EARM), February 2013; Enforcement Integrated Database (EID), November 2012; FY 2013 ICE Immigration Removals. Graph prepared by NDN/NPI staff.

Today: Watch/Attend Expert Panel on Obama Immigration/Border Enforcement Record

With the topic of immigration very much in the news, and the release of more specific data from DHS’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) this year, NDN/NPI invites you to a panel discussion on the Obama Administration’s immigration and border enforcement.

Please join us Wednesday, April 23rd at 12pm for a discussion with experts Marc Rosenblum, Deputy Director of the US Immigration Policy Program at the Migration Policy Institute, Edward Alden, Bernard L. Schwartz Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and Tamar Jacoby, President and CEO of ImmigrationWorks USA.  They will help unpack what this new data means, weigh in on the Obama Administration’s enforcement record, and take questions from the audience. Please feel free to invite friends and colleagues, and we hope to see you there!

Expert Panel on the Obama Administration’s Immigration and Border Enforcement Record
Wed, April 23rd, 12pm-1:130pm
Lunch served at 12 noon, presentation will begin at 12:15pm
NDN Event Space: 729 15th St NW, 1st Floor, Washington, DC

Please RSVP here.  Livestream begins here at 1215pm, and recording will be on NDN site late today.

For background, see NDN/NPI’s most recent analysis here.

Thanks to All of You

Dear friends,

After a wonderful year of working with NDN’s 21st Century Border Initiative, I am moving on later this month to the Latin America Working Group. I will be an Associate on their Justice in Mexico and the Borderlands Campaign, working with human rights defenders on the ground in Mexico and leading advocacy campaigns with a binational coalition to improve policies at the US-Mexico border. I collaborated with LAWG while working in Mexico City, and interned there when I first came to Washington, DC, so I am honored to come full circle and return with more experience in a leadership position.

I could not be prouder or more grateful for the work I have been a part of this past year with NDN/NPI’s 21st Century Border Program. We have endeavored to promote a better, modern relationship with Mexico and a vision of a US-Mexico border that is not merely a dividing line but the center of opportunity. We have continued to fight for commonsense immigration reform that will grow our regional and national economies, strengthen national security, bring millions of people out of the shadows, and make the US a better and stronger country for the future. This work at NDN and with all of you has left me optimistic that, even in a tough political climate, smart bipartisan solutions are still within reach.

Most importantly, this work has brought me in contact with an excellent community of experts and advocates working on immigration reform and the US-Mexico relationship, perhaps the most essential current US policy priority and our most crucial binational relationship. I look forward to continuing this collaboration with all of you in my new role, and hope you will continue to let me know when I can be of assistance with your work. And I plan to see you often at many upcoming NDN community events. 

I can always be reached via emma.buckhout@gmail.com.

Warmest regards,


Daily Immigration Reform Backgrounder - March 31st

As the immigration reform debate continues in the House, the team at NDN/NPI offers up its most relevant background materials, and key press clips, updated daily.


  •  DHS's Alan Bersin on Deepening US-Mexico Ties: A/S Bersin highlighted how increasingly coordinated US-Mexico efforts on security that were “unthinkable 15 years ago” are paving the way for immigration reform and a greater focus on shared economic prosperity and global competitiveness.
  • Simon Op-Ed, "Some Thoughts on Senate Immigration Border Deal": Simon gives his thoughts on the Senate compromise on border enforcement: "This fall when the President signs a new immigration bill into law in a beautiful Rose Garden ceremony we may look back on the border deal announced yesterday as the savvy compromise which paved the way.   I hope that is the case.  But I am not convinced that what happened yesterday was strategically advantageous for the cause of reform.   While the Democrats received nothing new in the “deal,” the Republicans achieved something very significant – they got the Democrats to buy into one of the big lies of the anti-reform movement, a big lie which is now part of the bill and will be part of the life of the nation for years to come."
  • Kristian Op-Ed in NBC Latino: "Arizona Sheds Anti-Immigrant Policies; House Should Take Note:" Kristian gives his thoughts on the implications of shifting immigration politics in Arizona: "A combination of real improvements along the border, a series of high-profile legal and political defeats, and a rallying of business and community leaders against the social and economic costs of anti-immigrant politics is ushering in a new, post-SB1070 era in Arizona.  As House Republicans in recent days have committed to SB1070 style anti-immigrant politics, it would be wise for them to pay attention to what has happened in Arizona in recent years."
  • Also see this related article by Benjy Sarlin in MSNBC.
  • Simon Op-Ed in The Hill: "On the border, DHS has earned Congress' trust": Simon provides his analysis on a flurry of amendments being proposed to the Senate Immigration and border legislation. He argues that the Republican party must acknowledge the positive work done by the Department of Homeland Security at the border in order set realistic and achievable goals for the Senate immigration legislation.
  • Media call with Southwest Border Mayors to discuss real life impact of immigration policies: NDN hosted a media call with several southwest border mayors will be available to provide context to the ongoing immigration debate and how it impacts real people and the economic vitality of border communities.  They include, but are not limited to, the following: Arturo Garino - Mayor of Nogales, Arizona,  Raul Salinas - Mayor of Laredo, Texas, Greg Stanton - Mayor of Phoenix, Arizona, Tony Martinez - Mayor of Brownsville, Texas, Ken Miyagashima - Mayor of Las Cruces, New Mexico. Today NDN/NPI hosted a call with two of these regional leaders, Greg Stanton - Mayor of Phoenix, Arizona and Tony Martinez -Mayor of Brownsville, Texas to discuss the Senate immigration legislation and what it means for their communities. To listen to the call please click here.
  • Simon Op-Ed in Huffington Post: "The Administration's Border Strategy Is Working": Simon analyzes how the US-Mexico border is safer, trade with Mexico has exploded, the immigration system is better, and how the Senate bill will improve upon all of this.
  • Webinar Presentation: “How Improvements Along the Border, In Our Immigration System and In Mexico Are Impacting the National Immigration Debate”: Three factors that have paved the way for comprehensive immigration reform to happen now in the United States: the US-Mexico border is safer; the immigration system is better; and Mexico is modernizing and growing.
  • The presentation is also available in the attached pdf.
  • Report: "Realizing the Strategic National Value of our Trade, Tourism and Ports of Entry with Mexico"- The report states: “Trade between Mexico and the United States is among one of the great untold success stories of the last four years….The current negotiations in Congress on comprehensive immigration reform offer a key window of opportunity to expand our ability to facilitate legitimate trade and tourism with Mexico and grow our economy in the process.” 
  • Kristian Op-Ed in AZ Daily Star: "Updating Ports of Entry Will Help Preserve Our Vital Trade with Mexico": Kristian highlights important border provisions, including adding more customs agents and investing in US ports of entry, of the legislation currently in Congress that will benefit the Southern Arizona and overall US economies.
  • Kristian Op-Ed for VOXXI: “Reasons for Optimism on Border Section of Immigration Legislation”: Thanks to a successful increase in border security at the Southern border and a growing US-Mexico commercial relationship, the Senate Gang of Eight legislation was able to balance enforcement measures with investment in the critical needs of staffing at our ports of entry at the border. 
  • 21st Century Border Initiative website.


  • Immigration Reform in 2014? 6 Reasons We’re Optimistic: As 2013 draws to a close, immigration reform prospects among both parties and both chambers of Congress are brighter than ever. See our 6 reasons we believe that Congress can pass immigration reform legislation in 2014.
  • Reps. Joe Garcia (D), Jeff Denham (R), Steven Horsford (D) Discuss Imm Reform: NDN hosted Representatives Joe Garcia (D-FL), Jeff Denham (R-CA), and Steven Horsford (D-NV), as well as TV host and reporter Fernando Espuelas for a discussion of HR 15 and immigration reform’s prospects.  
  • With Long History of GOP Support, Immigration Reform Is Different: One of the main reasons significant progress on immigration is still possible in coming months is the long history of Republican leadership and support of the issue. 
  • President, Senate, House Dems Moved Forward on Imm Reform: #TimeIsNow for House GOP: NDN applauds the introduction of H.R. 15, the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act.”  The President, Senate, and now House Dems have all taken action on immigration reform, now it is time for the House GOP to do its part.
  • NDN Statement: New House Immigration Reform Bill Brings Us Closer to Deal. (También en español.): “The introduction of this thoughtful new House immigration reform bill brings us one step closer to getting a bill signed into law in the coming months...."
  • Event Recap: Evaluating Immigration Reform’s Prospects: NDN and the New Policy Institute hosted long-time immigration advocates Tamar Jacoby and Frank Sharry along with NDN President Simon Rosenberg for an expert, thought-provoking, and optimistic discussion on the path forward for immigration reform.
  • Simon's latest op-ed in the Huffington Post: Immigration Reform Is Very Much Alive: Contrary to recent news accounts, we are closer to passing a meaningful immigration reform bill than at any point since John McCain and Ted Kennedy introduced their bill in 2005.
  • House GOP Has Passed Five Bills Out Of Committee: In case you missed it, here are the five bills that have passed out of committee in the House, which will be increasingly important as immigration reform moves forward.
  • Simon’s Statement Celebrating the Passage of the Senate Immigration Reform Bill: “Today, we join in celebrating the passage of the Senate immigration reform bill. As we’ve written before, we believe the bill at its core is ambitious, bold and super smart. It improves the legal immigration system, strengthens border security and interior enforcement, puts unauthorized immigrants on a path to citizenship and makes prudent investments in our ports of entry with Mexico which will create jobs on both sides of our border.”
  • Analysis: CBO Scoring of Immigration Bill A Game Changer: Simon gives his thought on the CBO score of the Senate Immigration Bill: "The new CBO report is a bit of a political game changer for the immigration debate.   While it has been long argued that the Senate Immigration Bill would do many things – improve border security and interior enforcement, resolve the issue of the 11 million undocumented immigrants living and working here in the US, improve the legal immigration system, smartly invest in expanding our trade with Mexico – we now know that it will also help improve the US economy, create jobs and significantly lower the budget deficit."
  • Simon's Statement on The House Judiciary Bill 'The SAFE Act:' “Today, the House Republicans declared their independence from Comprehensive Immigration Reform.  The self-deportation/attrition movement, which captured the Republican Party’s nominee in 2012, has re-asserted itself in American politics.  While the House deferred action vote was regrettable, the newly introduced Goodlatte-Gowdy Enforcement Bill (HR 2278), which calls for among other things, guns and body armor for ICE agents, is as true an expression of self-deportation/attrition as one will ever find in Congress. "
  • Simon's Statement on the Passage of the Border/Immigration Bill out of the Judiciary Committee- “After the Senate Judiciary Committee passed S.755 with a strong bipartisan majority yesterday, we remain optimistic that Congress will be able to pass a good, comprehensive border and immigration bill this year”
  • Immigration Reform: Bipartisanship's Improbable Poster Child- NDN President Simon Rosenberg and President and CEO of ImmigrationWorks USA Tamar Jacoby met at the New America Foundation to continue this bipartisan engagement on immigration reform. Watch their discussion of how the Senate “Gang of Eight” provides commonsense reform through compromise on border enforcement, an arduous path to citizenship, and a balance on employment-based visas.
  • Senator Michael Bennet Optimistic About Immigration Reform's Prospects- Senator Michael Bennet (D-Col.), joined by Congressman Joe Garcia (D, FL-26), on the progress of immigration legislation in Congress.


NDN/NPI Applaud Introduction of Border Enforcement Accountability Bill

The following is NDN/NPI's statement on the March 26th release of the “Border Enforcement Accountability, Oversight, and Community Engagement Act of 2014”:

"NDN and the New Policy Institute applaud the introduction of the bipartisan “Border Enforcement Accountability, Oversight, and Community Engagement Act of 2014” by Representatives O’Rourke (D-TX) and Pearce (R-NM).  While much progress has been made at the border in recent years, no piece of the comprehensive immigration reform debate is more contentious than that of border and immigration enforcement.  This bill works to improve the border enforcement system for all stakeholders, including port and enforcement personnel, people traveling across the border, and border communities.  It would strengthen the system that facilitates our burgeoning cross-border travel and trade, bolsters national security, and discourages unauthorized migration, in keeping with American ideals.

NDN/NPI especially commend the bill’s proposed evaluation of the management of ports of entry.  Over one million people and $1.3 billion dollars worth of trade cross the nearly 2,000 mile US-Mexico border each day.  The bill would allow for additional customs staff, infrastructure, and technology at ports where lengthy wait times are negatively impacting the local and national economy.

We remain optimistic that Congress can pass a comprehensive immigration reform package this year that bolsters national security, decreases the national deficit, boosts GDP, and brings millions of people out of the shadows.  This “Border Enforcement Accountability, Oversight, and Community Engagement Act of 2014” is an important step toward that goal and will help build trust on all sides around border enforcement.  We urge both parties of Congress to lend their full support."

A summary of the bill is available here, courtesy of the Border Network for Human Rights.

The full text of H.R. 4303 is available here.

For more information, see the following from NDN/NPI:

Simon at World Affairs 2014: The Human Face of Immigration

 Last week Simon participated in “The Human Face of Immigration” panel hosted by the World Affairs Council in San Francisco with immigration reform activist Jose Antonio Vargas, and Tara Magner of the MacArthur Foundation. In case you missed it, video of their compelling discussion is available here:

 NDN has long asserted that the Administration’s investment in immigration and border enforcement has paid off. In the panel, Simon highlighted that “despite very difficult politics, despite the fact that the cartel violence in Mexico is very real, and is something that we can’t ignore, crime on the US side of the border has plummeted.” Moreover, the two safest cities in the US, San Diego and El Paso, are border cities.

 President Obama has faced harsh criticism recently from immigration reform advocate groups over the deportation of undocumented immigrants. While President Obama inherited much of this enforcement and deportation regime, his Administration has worked to dramatically change the nature of who is being deported. It has enacted prosecutorial discretion, prioritizing convicted criminals and people caught crossing the border over low threats in the interior. Simon said: “[President Obama] deserves much more credit, frankly, than what people are giving him, having taken a very difficult situation and making it far better than it used to be. There is only one way to stop the deportations, and that is by passing comprehensive immigration reform.”

 See this piece on why NDN is optimistic about immigration reform in 2014, and this recent analysis on the Administration’s progress on immigration and border enforcement.

NDN Analysis: Obama Deserves Far More Credit for His Immigration/Border Enforcement Record

Throughout the debate over how to build a better immigration system for America, there has been tension over the many competing goals of reform.  Perhaps no piece of comprehensive immigration reform better exposes these tensions than the debate over immigration and border enforcement.  The struggle to craft a strategy that encourages expanding levels of legal trade and travel, discourages unauthorized migration, and keeps the US safe—all while doing so in a way consistent with American values—is no easy task.  It is our belief, after reviewing the data from recent years, that the Obama Administration has in fact managed this enforcement system well and deserves far more credit than they have received for doing a good job on a really tough and highly contentious set of responsibilities. 

Our evidence is in this set of recent analyses that we and other organizations have produced.  In sum, crime on the US side of the border has plummeted; net migration of unauthorized migrants has fallen to zero today; the deportation system is removing far more criminals and border crossers and has de-prioritized law abiding unauthorized migrants living in the US; and even with a far more aggressive and enforcement strategy, trade with Mexico has exploded, almost doubling in the last five years. 

Some key stats from our recent reports:

  • Crime is down across the US side of the border.  The two largest border cities, El Paso and San Diego, are the two safest large cities in America today.
  • Four of the five high traffic migration corridors across the US-Mexican border are already at or near the Senate bill’s goal of 90% effectiveness rate.
  • Net migration from Mexico has fallen from its 2001 peak of 770,000 people per year to zero today.
  • Since President Obama took office, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has made steps to prioritize removing criminals and recent border crossers. ICE reports that in 2013, 59% of unauthorized immigrants it removed from the US had a criminal conviction, and about two thirds were removed at the border. Of 368,644 removals, only 10,336 individuals were not convicted of a crime, repeat immigration violators, immigration fugitives, or at the border.
  • In 2012 the Obama Administration implemented the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, to allow about one million DREAMers, unauthorized immigrants brought to the US as youths, to work and study legally in the US.
  • Trade with Mexico has jumped from $340b in 2009 to about $550b in 2013.  Mexico is America’s 3rd largest trading partner, and 2nd largest export market.  $1.3billion worth of goods and 1 million people that cross the 2000 mile US-Mexico border each day

While more can be done to make the system even better still, it is long past time for all parties in this debate to give the Obama Administration far more credit than they have received to date for making the border and immigration enforcement system more effective and more humane.   The best way of course to build on this progress is by passing something akin to the already passed, bi-partisan Senate immigration bill. 

Logic Behind Our Estimate of Drop in Non-Criminal, Non-Border Deportations

In an essay that Simon and I wrote today, we estimated that in 2009 the number of non-criminal, non-border deportations was around 150,000. That estimate was based on the FY 2013 ICE report and this ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations document. For more on our calculations, see the following:

FY 2009 Estimated ICE Immigration Non-Criminal, Non-Border Removals

  • ICE reports 389,834 total removals for FY 2009.
  • 136,343 (35%) had a prior criminal conviction.
  • 253,491 were non-criminal immigration violators.
  • 151,893 people were removed by ICE at the border (FY 2013 report), so one can calculate 237,941 were interior removals.
  • Allowing that there was no policy in place prioritizing the removal of convicted criminal immigration violators in 2009, one can apply the 35% rate of criminal deportations to the total interior number to estimate that 83,279 criminals were deported from the interior.
  • This would leave 154,662 non-criminal, non-border removals (40% of the total FY 2009 removals).

Note: That specific breakout is not currently available from ICE. If you have more specific data, we are happy to incorporate it.

Event Re-cap: Forum on US-Mexico w/ Shannon O'Neil and Eric Farnsworth

On February 27th, NDN and the New Policy Institute hosted a public forum to reflect on a significant month of US-Mexico engagement, the developments of the last 2 decades, and a vision for the relationship going forward.  Nelson Cunningham of McLarty Associates will moderated a fascinating discussion with leading experts on Mexico, Shannon O’Neil, Senior Fellow for Latin America Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, and Eric Farnsworth, Vice President of the Council of the Americas and Americas Society.

In case you missed it, the video of the event is available here.

For more information on the deepening and modernizing US-Mexico relationship, see the following materials from NDN/NPI:


Brownstein: "Why What’s Good for Mexico Is Good for Us"

Esteemed political journalist Ronald Brownstein published the article "Why What’s Good for Mexico Is Good for Us" in today's copy of the National Journal.  It begins: 

"Follow their roots and two of Washington's most polarizing debates twist back into the same contested ground: the complex U.S. relationship with Mexico. Both the congressional stalemate over immigration reform and the rapidly hardening impasse over trade policy are grounded in exaggerated concerns about this country's interaction with its neighbor to the south.

That's how Simon Rosenberg, founder of NDN, a centrist Democratic group that tracks border issues, perceptively sees things. On overhauling the nation's immigration laws, conservatives are peddling fear; on trade, it's liberals raising alarms. But in each instance, the case against Mexico is "more theological than fact-based," as Rosenberg says. Unless these inflated fears are dispelled, the United States will fail to seize the opportunities for further economic integration that President Obama, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper touted during their brief summit in Mexico this week."

Read the complete article here.

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