The number of immigrants removed from the United States this year lags slightly behind last year’s figures through 11 months, according to statistics released this week by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

As of Sept. 7, ICE, which is an agency of the federal Department of Homeland Security, has removed 353,392 people this year, off last year’s pace by a little more than 2,000.

Immigration officials have repeatedly said that the government can afford to remove annually about 400,000 – or 4 percent – of the estimated illegal immigrant population.

In an wrap-up story on the Obama administration’s shift on how the government deports illegal immigrants, ICE chief John Morton told ProPublica/USA Today “Congress provides enough money to deport a little less than 400,000 people.”

“My perspective is those 400,000 people shouldn’t be the first 400,000 people in the door but rather 400,000 people who reflect some considered government enforcement policy based on a rational set of objectives and priorities,” Morton said.

To reach last year’s total of 389,834 removals – which include deportations of immigrants as well as immigrants who agree to leave on their own accord –
ICE would have to remove 36,442 people. ICE has removed more than 36,000 people in just two months this fiscal year.

To reach 400,000, the agency would have to remove more than 46,000 individuals, the most in any one month in the last four fiscal years. As of Aug. 23, the agency had deported about 10,000 fewer immigrants.

Andrew Becker is a reporter for Reveal, covering border, national and homeland security issues, as well as weapons and gun trafficking. He has focused on waste, fraud and abuse – with stories ranging from border corruption to the expanding use of drones and unmanned aerial vehicles, from the militarization of police to the intersection of politics and policy related to immigration, from terrorism to drug trafficking. Becker's reporting has appeared in The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Newsweek/The Daily Beast and on National Public Radio and PBS/FRONTLINE, among others. He received a master's degree in journalism from UC Berkeley. Becker is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.