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PolitiFact FL: DeSantis is right, Obama deported more people than Trump did

A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer looks on during an operation.
Gregory Bull
In this July 8, 2019, file photo, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer looks on during an operation in Escondido, Calif. U.S.

WLRN has partnered with PolitiFact to fact-check Florida politicians. The Pulitzer Prize-winning team seeks to present the true facts, unaffected by agenda or biases.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said that if elected president, he’d do better at deporting people who are illegally in the country than former President Donald Trump did.

"Trump promised the largest deportations in history," DeSantis said Jan. 2 during a town hall hosted by Gray Television. "He deported less, believe it or not, than Barack Obama even did."

As a presidential candidate in 2016, Trump promised to deport every immigrant living in the U.S. illegally (then estimated to be 11 million people). He failed to do so, earning him a Promise Broken on PolitiFact’s Trump-O-Meter promise tracker.

But did Trump deport fewer people than Obama? There are different deportation metrics, and Obama surpassed Trump’s numbers in each one. Immigrant rights advocates had dubbed Obama the "deporter-in-chief" by the time he left office in 2017.

The federal government classifies deportations as the removal of noncitizens from the U.S. It tracks it in a few different ways:

  • Removals: When people are sent out of the U.S. via an official court order, often penalized for the illegal entry. This can include people who have lived in the United States for years and people who recently arrived.
  • Returns: When people are returned to their home countries without legal penalties and without being placed in formal removal proceedings. This happens at the border.
  • Title 42 expulsions: These happened from March 2020 to May 2023 under a public health policy. Some people arriving at the border were not let into the United States and were expelled without legal penalties.

Under Trump, from fiscal year 2017 to fiscal year 2020 the Department of Homeland Security recorded 2 million deportations, a combination of all three metrics. (Fiscal year 2017 included about four months of the Obama administration.)

During Obama’s first term, fiscal year 2009 to fiscal year 2012, there were 3.2 million deportations (removals and returns). Fiscal year 2009 included about four months of the second George W. Bush administration. During Obama’s second term, covering fiscal years 2013 through 2016, there were 2.1 million deportations (removals and returns).

These figures — for Obama and Trump — include deportations of people stopped at the border and people who were already living in the U.S. and picked up by immigration authorities.

A DeSantis campaign spokesperson pointed us to a 2020 report from the libertarian Cato Institute that supports DeSantis’ claim. The report focused on Immigration and Customs Enforcement removals of people already living in the U.S., and shows that there were more deportations under each of Obama’s terms compared with Trump’s term.

"By any measure, the Trump administration failed to meaningfully increase immigration enforcement in the interior of the United States," compared with the Obama administration, the report said.

Our ruling

DeSantis said Trump "deported less, believe it or not, than Barack Obama even did."

Federal data tracking the removals, returns and expulsions of noncitizens supports this claim. During each of his terms, Obama deported more people than Trump did during his term.

We rate DeSantis’ claim True.

Our Sources

Maria Ramirez Uribe is an immigration reporter at PolitiFact.