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TRAC vs. ICE: Report claims more disparity in deportation stats

The back-and-forth between immigration authorities and a university center that tracks federal data has become more heated, after Syracuse University's Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) sent out a press release today once again accusing the federal government of inflating its deportation statistics and withholding public information.

In a report last month, TRAC accused U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement of inflating its tally of criminal deportations. ICE officials criticized the report as "wildly misleading," saying that deportees' criminal histories aren't always found in administrative removal records, hence the disparity in numbers.

In its release today, TRAC claims that an examination of case-by-case records provided by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) reveals that "many fewer individuals were apprehended, deported or detained by the agency than were claimed in its official statements — congressional testimony, press releases, and the agency's latest 2010 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics." From the release:

In its initial FOIA request in May 2010, TRAC asked for specific information about all individuals who had been arrested, detained, charged, returned or removed from the country for the period beginning October 1, 2004 to date. In its initial and incomplete response, however, ICE so far has only provided TRAC with information through FY 2005. The agency said it would provide detailed information about the more recent years later.

When compared with various public statements by the agency, however, TRAC's analysis of this limited case-by-case information provided found vast discrepancies. Among them: ICE statements claimed almost five times more individual apprehensions than revealed in the data, as well as 24 times more individuals deported and 34 times more detentions.

According to TRAC, its analysis of fiscal year 2005 data counted 6,906 deportations, while ICE logged 166,075. There were similar discrepancies between the official totals for apprehensions (21,339 vs. 102,034) and for immigrants detained (6,778 vs. 233,417).

Why the huge gap?

Last month, ICE officials cited vastly different accounting methods: When counting criminal deportations, for example, the agency includes administrative deportations in which the individual had a past conviction. However, if the crime doesn't factor into the deportation case, it's typically not found in the immigration court records, which the TRAC report analyzed. Many immigrants, particularly those who are in the country illegally, are removed solely on administrative grounds, whether or not there's a criminal history.

TRAC maintained in its release today that "this was not an inconsequential bookkeeping problem." A statement from ICE is forthcoming. The press release can be viewed here.

ICE's response: The agency won't likely have a mathematical explanation for the disparity until tomorrow. However, an agency spokeswoman stressed that ICE is still in the process of releasing data to TRAC. Agency spokeswoman Gillian Christensen said the numbers today were inaccurate and "based on conclusions gathered from an incomplete set of data," and that ICE "has worked diligently to respond to their requests for extremely large amounts of data and related information."

"Nevertheless," she wrote, "ICE is committed to continuing to provide data that confirms the accuracy of the agency’s removal numbers. We stand by our record."