WASHINGTON -- The House Judiciary Committee unleashed its latest attack Friday on the Obama administration for its immigration enforcement: a claim that the Department of Homeland Security is "cooking the books" on deportation by including undocumented immigrants who are caught at the border and then sent away.
It's partially true. Immigration and Customs Enforcement under the Obama administration does count those removals in its total deportation figures. The problem with the claim, though, is that the policy isn't really an Obama-era conspiracy -- it's just the way deportation numbers have been tabulated for years.
The George W. Bush administration also counted immigrants caught at the border, in both general enforcement and as part of a program started in 2008 called the Alien Transfer Exit Program, the program with which the committee takes issue. Bush also deported fewer people per year -- far fewer in some years -- than the current administration.
Those numbers are important given the debate over President Barack Obama's commitment to deporting undocumented immigrants. Democrats point to the record number of deportations under Obama -- which some of them, along with many immigrant advocacy groups, oppose -- to say he has been tougher than any previous president on enforcing immigration law. Republicans, though, say the president is shirking his responsibilities and ignoring the rule of law to give amnesty, bolstered by a recent decision to grant deferred action to some undocumented young people.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said Friday that based on ICE figures obtained by the committee, the administration appeared to be lying to the American people and will deport fewer people this year than it did in 2008 or 2009.
"In a campaign season when Administration officials have made a habit of spinning their numbers to ignore their real record, it's no surprise that they are doing the same to their immigration record," Smith said in a statement. "It seems like President Obama is trying to trick the American people into thinking he is enforcing our immigration laws."
The Judiciary Committee said its internal documents showed that not counting people deported from the Alien Transfer Exit Program would reduce total removals by about 37,000 -- from 397,000 to 360,000.
Those deportations expend government resources and are therefore counted each time, even if the same individual is caught in the country twice.
"ICE accounting methodologies related to individuals arrested by the Border Patrol have not changed under this Administration," ICE spokesman Ross Feinstein said in a statement. "These border-related removals have increased in recent years as ICE has dedicated unprecedented resources to border security and has significantly increased its presence along the border."