More immigrants are being deported under the Obama administration than at any time during the tenure of President George W. Bush, according to government data released Monday.
The statistics show that removals - the technical term for deportations - hit 389,834 in fiscal year 2009, which covered most of the first year of the Obama administration. In fiscal year 2008, which covered the final Bush White House year, that number was 369,221. The fiscal year runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30.
"Nobody can say Obama is not enforcing immigration laws, and he has been doing it to a greater extent than Bush," said David Leopold, president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, a Washington, D.C.-based organization.
The data come from the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and were compiled and released by the nonprofit Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a unit of Syracuse University.
TRAC's analysis of the data showed that the Obama officials are pushing the deportation of immigrants convicted of crimes, with 136,343 in that category ordered out in fiscal year 2009, a nearly 17 percent rise over the year before.
This fiscal year is shaping up to total even more deportations of convicted immigrants; in the first nine months of fiscal year 2010, 136,714 convicted immigrants have been ordered out, according to TRAC.
"There has been a deliberate policy moving in that direction," said Crystal Williams, head of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, about the shift to deporting criminals. "Memos show indeed the administration is concentrating resources on people more likely to be considered dangerous."
Richard Rocha, a spokesman for the immigration agency, said it is committed to "smart, effective enforcement" that first targets convicted criminals.
William Streppone, an immigration attorney in Commack, said he believes that the increase in deportations is the result of the Bush administration's having put so many cases in the pipeline. But not all observers agree.
"About eight months ago I would say that," said Williams. "But these numbers are staying up," an indication of cases introduced by the Obama administration.
Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies for the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, said that by concentrating on convicted criminals already behind bars, the administration isn't deterring immigrants who will risk crossing the border. Under the Bush administration, priority was given to preventing employers from hiring illegal immigrants, she said, a policy that resulted in many of them returning home.