Republican Senator: "Virtually No One Is Being Deported"

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"The federal government has reached a point now where virtually no one is being deported, except those convicted of serious crimes."

That's what Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said on Friday during the opening debate over an immigration reform bill in the Senate.

And it's 100 percent not true. The raw statistics tell a much different story.

Here are some I touched on back in January:

1.6 million: The record number of deportations under Obama during his first four years in office. On average, Obama deported 32,886 per month, according to an August article by Polifact. That rate is much higher than that of his predecessors: George W. Bush deported a monthly average of 20,964 and Clinton deported 9,059.

In 2012, U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement deported 409,849 people. That's basically a city the size of Oakland or Miami. And it's double the population of Montgomery, Alabama, the capital city in Sessions' home state.

And the majority of people being deported are not serious criminals, according to 2011 deportation stats from U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE). I featured these numbers in February story:

Of the 396,906 removals by ICE in the 2011 fiscal year, 45 percent were non-criminal and 24 percent were for misdemeanors, what ICE calls Level 3 crimes. That means that 69 percent of the agency's deportations were of non-criminals or low-level offenders.

Those weren't the only claims the senator made during the first day of debate over immigration reform. He believes the bill -- crafted by a group of four Republicans and four Democrats -- gives an easy path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, without investing adequate resources in border security.

The Friday floor debate felt much like a continuation of May committee hearings over the bill, where Sessions went to great lengths to show his opposition to the legislation. During those hearings, the senator was more of an outlier, and the legislation passed through committee with two-thirds of the senators in favor.

Now that the bill is on the Senate floor, Sessions will try to galvanize resistance within his party.

The legislation will likely only need a handful of Republican votes to overcome a potential filibuster, but sponsors say they want robust support so that the immigration bill will have a better chance in the Republican-controlled House. The goal is to get 70 members of the 100-person Senate to vote for the bill.

From Sessions' perspective, the question may be less whether he can stop the legislation from passing in the Senate, and more whether he can temper a rush of Republican support that would give it much-needed momentum in the House.

To do that, he seems prepared to lean on a few themes, including immigration enforcement. His message is that the Obama administration isn't doing its job.

Sessions and other opponents of the immigration bill have argued that the administration's deportation statistics are misleading. They say that individuals who are removed at the border are lumped into the same category as those detained and deported from within the U.S., arguing that artificially inflates the overall number of deportations.

And the senator he has some allies in making his arguments.

Chris Crane, a union leader for federal immigration agents, has blasted Obama for policies that prioritize deportations. In recent years, immigration agents have been asked to focus their resources on criminals, and give stays of deportation to certain young people who have been in the U.S. for some time.

The immigration program for young people, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), allows DREAMers to live and work in the U.S. at two-year intervals. Through April, nearly 292,000 people had been approved for the program.

Still, even with these programs, deportations have remained high, and the president has stonewalled attempts to halt removals until the passage of an immigration reform bill.

But that's something you probably won't hear from Jeff Sessions over the next week as the immigration reform bill comes closer to a vote in the Senate.

Update, 5:15 p.m.: I updated this piece to include the full quote from Sen. Sessions as well as statistics on criminal deportations.

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Immigration Reform is a heated political issue that we view from all angles in the hope of getting politicians to address those impacted by the decisions they make.

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