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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Ted Cruz on Deportations

Sen. Ted Cruz claimed at the Dec. 15 Republican presidential debate that 12 million people were deported under President Clinton and 10 million people under George W. Bush. But those figures are inflated.

We were asked on Twitter to fact-check Cruz’s statement, which came when the Texas senator was explaining what he would do to address the 11 million or so people who live in the U.S. illegally. Cruz said he would “enforce the law,” citing two previous presidents.

Cruz, Dec. 15: Do you know how many aliens Bill Clinton deported? 12 million. Do you know how many illegal aliens, George W. Bush deported? 10 million.

Based on Department of Homeland Security figures for “removals,” which are defined as “the compulsory and confirmed movement of an inadmissible or deportable alien out of the United States based on an order of removal,” there were more than 827,100 people removed, or deported, during the fiscal years that span Clinton’s two-terms in office (FY 1993-FY 2000) and more than 2 million people during the fiscal years when Bush was in office most of the time (FY 2001-FY 2008).

DHS provides removal figures based on fiscal years for the federal government, which start on Oct. 1 and end on Sept. 30. So, the figures don’t match up perfectly with the time presidents usually enter and leave office in January.

In order to get somewhat close to the figures Cruz mentioned, one would have to include the number of “returns” under those presidents, not just the “removals.”

DHS defines a “return” as “the confirmed movement of an inadmissible or deportable alien out of the United States not based on an order of removal.” In other words, a return occurs when an apprehended immigrant leaves the U.S. voluntarily before being ordered to do so through a formal removal proceeding.

“Generally, aliens waive their right to a hearing, remain in custody, and, if applicable, agree to depart the United States under supervision,” the DHS says of returns.

There were more than 11.4 million returns during the fiscal years that fell mostly under Clinton and more than 8.3 million returns during the fiscal years mainly under Bush.

Correction, Feb. 7, 2016: We have corrected the totals for returns and removals made during the fiscal years under Clinton and Bush. We previously said that there were more than 681,000 removals and 9.7 million returns under Clinton, and more than 1.65 million removals and 7.5 million returns under Bush.