Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump smiles (C) as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (L), Jeb Bush (2ndL), Ohio Gov. John Kasich (2nd R) and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) walk onstage afterthe CNN Republican presidential debate on December 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. This is the last GOP debate of the year, with U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) gaining in the polls in Iowa and other early voting states and Donald Trump rising in national polls.
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Story highlights

"Does everyone see that the Democrats and President Obama are now, because of me, starting to deport people who are here illegally," Trump tweeted

Trump also said criminal deportations in the U.S. are the lowest number in many years

Washington CNN —  

Donald Trump is taking credit for the Obama administration’s reported plans to step up deportations of families early next year, and claimed Saturday that “criminal deportations” are at their lowest number in years.

The Washington Post reported late Wednesday that the nationwide raids will focus on hundreds of families that have entered the United States since early last year. The plan is the first large-scale effort to deport families that have fled violence in Central America, the Post reported.

Gillian Christensen, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, would not confirm the report to CNN Saturday but did not dispute it.

The plan was quickly condemned by Democratic presidential candidates but welcomed by Trump, who quickly tweeted that the plan was implemented because of his regular calls to deport the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S.

On Christmas, the Republican presidential front-runner reiterated his claim that the Obama administration was deporting people only after his calls on the campaign trail.

“Does everyone see that the Democrats and President Obama are now, because of me, starting to deport people who are here illegally. Politics!”

And on Saturday, the brash billionaire tweeted that “Criminal deportations in the U.S. are the lowest number in many years. We are letting criminals knowingly stay in our country. MUST CHANGE.”

“Deportation” isn’t an official law enforcement term used by the U.S. government, and there are two types of ways that detained undocumented immigrants are forced to leave the country: “removals,” which require a court order, and “returns,” which occur when immigrants apprehended near the Mexican or Canadian border are told to turn back.

The Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday announced that Immigration and Customs Enforcement removed or returned 235,413 people in the 2015 fiscal year, a more than 25% decrease from the year before and significantly less than any fiscal year during President Barack Obama’s presidency. Of the 235,413 people removed by ICE from the U.S. over the last fiscal year, which ended on September 30, 59% of them were convicted criminals, DHS data show.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said in a statement that the removal and return statistics are driven largely by a sharp drop in attempted illegal migration to the U.S., adding that border apprehensions reached their second-lowest point since 1972.

The ICE figures, however, do not include returns made at the border conducted by Border Patrol, a separate agency under the DHS.

Democrats and progressives have complained about Obama’s immigration policies. Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton vowed in October that she would be “much less harsh” on deporting undocumented immigrants.

Trump has also called for a wall to be built along the southern border, and asked Friday when Democrats – particularly Clinton – will join him.

“When will the Democrats, and Hillary in particular, say ‘we must build a wall, a great wall, and Mexico is going to pay for it?’ Never,” Trump tweeted.

CNN’s Kevin Bohn contributed to this report.