In late 2008, just months before President Barack Obama was sworn into office, the Department of Homeland Security launched Secure Communities. The new program used fingerprints and surveillance of local law enforcement agencies to detect and apprehend undocumented immigrants.
This sparked a vast increase in the number of deportations. Its creation, along with ICE, propelled the mass deportations that happened during President Obama’s first few years as president. Obama deported over three million people over the course of his presidency, almost one million more than President Bush.
The mass number of deportations undertaken in Obama’s early presidency gave him the nickname "Deporter-in-Chief" by critics in the immigrant rights community. Yet, total border apprehensions of undocumented immigrants, voluntary returns and total deportations (returns and forced removals) were less than under both Bush and Clinton, and removals (formal orders of forced deportations) were much higher under Obama.
Throughout his two terms, President Obama faced scrutiny about his deportation policies and numbers, causing him to end the Secure Communities Program in 2014. President Trump reactivated the program in 2017 and it still functions today.
President Obama’s immigration policies have faced opposition within the Democratic party, especially during the Democratic debates in 2019. Current Vice President Kamala Harris spoke out against Obama’s cooperation with Secure Communities and his high deportation rate.
“And on this issue, I disagreed with my president, because the policy was to allow deportation of people who by ICE’s own definition were non-criminals,” Harris said during a 2019 Democratic presidential primary debate. “So as attorney general, and the chief law officer of the state of California, I issued a directive to the sheriffs of my state that they did not have to comply with detainers, and instead should make decisions based on the best interests of public safety of their community.”
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