In October 2014, the Pew Research Center analyzed recently released DHS data and reported that the Obama Administration deported a record 438,400 unauthorized immigrants in fiscal year 2013, continuing a streak of stepped up enforcement that resulted in more than 2 million deportations since Obama took office. While this rate is the highest of any administration, some claim that President Obama is deporting fewer people and is failing to enforce immigration law. Here’s one explanation of the numbers.

There are two key deportation statistics: First are returns, individuals apprehended by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) who are then returned to their country without a formal “removal” on their record. Second are formal “removals,” which carry more severe consequences (barring the person from returning to the United States for five or more years). In the past decade, the use of returns has dropped significantly, while removals have steadily risen, and are at a historic high mark. One reason for the drop in returns is the decrease in illegal immigration since the recession, which resulted in an almost 70 percent decline in the total number of border apprehensions since 2005. In other words, the pool of undocumented immigrants that DHS encounters is smaller and the agency can deport fewer people. Another change is that the agency made a policy change, shifting from the use of returns to formal removals beginning in 2005, which also reflects tougher and more punitive position. Further reflecting a tougher policy on deportation, DHS has begun aggressively using summary removal processes, a process that bypasses the immigration courts and affords the applicant little to no due process. In 2013, 83 percent of all removals, or 363,000 immigrants, were accomplished by summary procedures.