(U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), security contractors frisk Honduran immigration detainees before deporting them on a flight to San Pedro Sula, Honduras on February 28, 2013 in Mesa, Arizona. ICE operates 4-5 flights per week from Mesa to Central America, deporting hundreds of undocumented immigrants detained in western states of the U.S. Photo/John Moore/Getty Images )

Conflicting views on approaching 2 million deportations

The Obama administration is approaching two million deportations, a milestone that immigration advocates decry and enforcement hawks dismiss as a failing of the president’s immigration policies.

Exactly when the number will be reached is unknown, possibly by year’s end or more likely early in 2014.

But it’s close enough for immigration activists to invoke the number as they clamor for Congress to move on immigration reform legislation and press President Barack Obama to suspend deportations.

Enforcement hawks see the number as a statistics gimmick spun by the administration to appear it has been tougher on immigration enforcement than it actually has.

RELATED: Obama: Can’t stop deportations of parents, would be ‘ignoring the law’

Immigration activists have been organizing around the coming two millionth deportation, having met in Phoenix last weekend for what they dubbed the “#Not1MoreDeportation” conference.

They’ve chained themselves to buses loaded with immigrants headed to deportation hearings, to fencing outside an Arizona immigration center and along the White House perimeter. They plan more protests.

It is not enough that Obama has championed immigration reform and in his second term, has put some political capital behind moving immigration legislation through Congress, said B. Loewe, a spokesman for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, a group that has organized deportation protest activities.

“Imagine the president who promised immigration reform in 2008 and now as a result of his own policies, two million who would have benefitted from that reform have been expelled from the country,” Loewe said.

“The president has the time to turn around before he reaches that historic milestone,” he said.

There is disagreement on how the two million “deportations” are counted and their significance.

Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, said
ICE is able to claim close to 400,000 arrests a year by counting including in its total deportations those immigrants who were arrested by the Border Patrol, which previous administrations did not do.

She said her own analysis for her group, which favors strict enforcement to curb immigration, shows more than half of people counted by ICE were apprehended by the Border Patrol.

With that kind of counting, it’s very likely the administration will reach the two million mark in coming months, but “that number is not necessarily a reflection of an increase of enforcement in the interior, which is what most American communities are concerned with,” Vaughan said.

The Department of Homeland Security’s goal of 400,000 deportations a year is fine, except when it is used to give the impression that more people are removed than really are,” Vaughan said.

Tanya Golash-Boza, a sociologist at the University of California, Merced, sees the numbers another way.

Her analysis of Immigration and Customs Enforcement data shows that a quarter of the people deported in 2011 were parents of U.S. citizen children, compared to about 10 percent under the Bush administration. Parents with U.S. citizen children were more likely to have been living in the U.S. interior, she said.

Apprehensions on the border have been dropping for years and so has the number of people returned to their country without any deportation proceedings. She said deportations by ICE are up.

Additionally, the Department of Homeland Security has asked for the same amount of money and had the same deportation goals every year and had the same quotas. “I don’t think they’ve slowed down,” she said. If they have it’s because of less efficiency, not a change in policy about enforcement, Golash-Boza said.

“Obama has focused more on interior enforcement,” she said.

Reaching the two million mark stands to be very significant to Obama’s presidential legacy, particularly because about 97 percent of people being deported are Latino and Carribean, Golash-Boza said.

“Obama is implementing a policy which has more negative implications for black and Latino immigrants,” Golash-Boza said.

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