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Removals vs. Returns: How to Think About Obama's Deportation Record

April 18, 2014 (1 min read)

"Earlier this week, I wrote a piece noting that the Obama administration has deported 2 million people — the most of any president in history.

Some critics took issue with that characterization — and the dispute here hinges on the fact that there's no longer any official definition of "deportation."  The terminology has changed as policy has changed, and that's creating some confusion today as to what should count as a deportation.

Currently, the federal government uses two different terms for when it apprehends an unauthorized immigrant and expels him or her from the country.  There are "removals," which involve a formal court order.  And then there are "returns," which do not.  In my article, I used "deportations" to refer to removals only — for reasons explained below.

This distinction matters a fair bit. The Obama administration is on pace for more removals than any president in history.  But there have been far fewer returns under Obama than under George W. Bush ... So if you think that measuring returns plus removals is the best way to judge enforcement, then it looks like Obama is less tough than Bush.  But there's a strong argument that removals are the appropriate metric to use in this debate. Here's why." - Dara Lind, Apr. 11, 1014.

[See also the excellent card stack on immigration reform.]