Reports are circling again this week that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) continues to overstate its deportation numbers.

After boasting the highest number of removals of illegal immigrants in agency history late last year, DHS was criticized by Representative Lamar Smith (R–TX) for artificially inflating its deportation numbers by including figures on voluntary removals. Renewing his charge last week, Smith is once again pointing to further efforts to “distort” deportation statistics.

According to a press release by the House Judiciary Committee:

The House Judiciary Committee has obtained internal U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) documents, which show that the Obama administration is cooking the books to achieve their so-called “record” deportation numbers for illegal immigrants and that removals are actually significantly down—not up—from 2009. Beginning in 2011, the Committee has learned that Obama administration officials at the Department of Homeland Security started to include numbers from the Alien Transfer Exit Program (ATEP) in its year-end removal numbers.… [I]t is illegitimate to count illegal immigrants apprehended by the Border Patrol along the Southwest border as ICE removals.

Under the Alien Transfer Exit Program (ATEP), which began in 2008, Mexican nationals apprehended along the border by the U.S. Border Patrol are moved to another border sector before they are sent back to Mexico. The intent is to break the cycle of smuggling by preventing illegal aliens from simply turning around and attempting to cross the border again at the same point of entry.

Thus, by including ATEP numbers in removal figures, DHS is counting individuals who are apprehended along the border and immediately returned in the same way as those who are ordered to be deported by the courts. The key difference, then, is not only that individuals returned through ATEP are apprehended before they cross the border into the U.S. but also that those returned through ATEP receive no criminal penalty or bars from returning to the U.S.

Do away with ATEP removals numbers in ICE’s deportation figures and what you get is not the record number the agency so proudly proclaims. ICE’s 2011 total removals, according to the House Judiciary press release, would drop from a purported 397,000 to around 360,000, and the agency’s 2012 numbers (annualized) would drop from 334,000 to approximately 263,000.

To put this in perspective, that means that ICE removals this year would then be 14 percent below reported 2008 numbers and 19 percent below the same figure for 2009.

America doesn’t need another numbers game. It’s time for the Administration to get serious when it comes to immigration enforcement. The nation needs an immigration policy that not only respects the rule of law by ensuring that individuals are not able to enter and remain in the U.S. illegally, but also streamlines the visa system to ensure that those who wish to come here legally can do so.