Updated July 6, 3:50 p.m. E.T.
The number of immigrant youths under the age of 18 who are deported or turned away from entering the U.S. each year has dropped significantly while President Obama has been in office, new data from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency reveals.
In 2008, under the George W. Bush Administration, the number was 8,143, but last year, the figure fell to 1,669, according to ICE data released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by the Los Angeles Times.
While a decade ago around 600 minors were deported each year from nonborder states, that number also dropped to 95 last year, as the U.S. saw an influx of unaccompanied minors traveling from Central America that is five times greater than the number of unaccompanied minors who arrived two years earlier.
The data arrives amid a debate about whether recent White House policies have led to the 52,000 immigrants under 18 who were caught by or surrendered to U.S. Border Patrol since October 2013. The figures will lend credence to rumors, reportedly widespread in Central America, that the U.S. has softened its stance on deporting younger migrants.
The Administration says the decline stems from a 2008 law signed by Bush that makes it difficult to send unaccompanied minors back to their home countries without putting them before an immigration judge. The Obama Administration recently asked Congress for additional resources, including more judges, to more quickly process the spike in unauthorized arrivals.
The head of the Department of Homeland Security acknowledged on Sunday that the numbers had gone up, but said on NBC’s Meet the Press that the Obama Administration is taking steps to reverse the flow. “I believe we will stem this tide,” said Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson.
Critics of the Obama Administration say recent policies, like a 2012 deportation-deferral program for immigrants who entered the U.S. illegally as minors before 2007, have worsened illegal attempts to cross the border.