The Trump administration has bolstered its campaign to deport criminal illegal immigrants by getting countries to stop blocking the transfers and take them back, according to key Homeland Security officials.

Led by its success in getting Iraq to shift gears, the administration is looking to cut the number of "recalcitrant nations" even further as it speeds up the arrest of illegal immigrants and visa overstayers who have criminal records.

"It is big news. It shows that some of these countries see that they can't get away with stiff arming us anymore, that there will be consequences," said Jessica Vaughan of the Center for Immigration Studies.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said the Obama and Trump administrations, in a combined effort from the departments of state and homeland security, have cut the number of recalcitrant nations in half.

"Working with our partners at the Department of State, ICE has made significant progress over the past year to improve cooperation on removals – including reducing the number of recalcitrant countries from 23 in May 2016 to 12 in May 2017," an ICE official told Secrets. "The recent agreement with the government of Iraq is one example, and we will continue our efforts to encourage greater cooperation."

While some consider forcing recalcitrant nations to take U.S. deportations low-hanging fruit, the foreign governments can be stubborn. As a result, the Trump administration has decided to play hardball, as in the case of Iraq, which got off the president's travel ban list partly by ending its policies of barring the return of criminals.

But recently, U.S. courts have interfered, raising another hurdle to the administration's plans. Last month, for example, courts blocked the administration from deporting more than 1,000 Iraqis with horrific criminal records, claiming they might face threats back home.

"ICE is currently reviewing the judge's order to determine the appropriate next steps," said ICE spokeswoman Gillian Christensen.

Still, the administration's efforts have won applause among groups eager to enforce immigration laws.

"The Trump administration has already made significant progress in just 150 days," said Vaughan, director of policy studies at CIS. But, she said, the administration will have to make good on threats to punish countries that balk at taking back criminals, including murderers and drug dealers.

"I am confident that the number of deadbeat countries can be reduced even further – for starters, China and Hong Kong should be the focus of pressure. On the at-risk list, there is no way places like Bermuda should be stiff-arming us. Others, like Brazil, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and Pakistan, have a lot to lose if they don't cooperate more fully. There are plenty of visa programs that could be turned off in a heartbeat if they do not improve very soon," Vaughan suggested.

Dale Wilcox, executive director of the Immigration Reform Law Institute, heralded the change in how the Trump administration has approached the issue compared to the Obama White House.

"ICE, along with the State Department, has the legislative authority to punish these countries. However, it was almost never been used in past administrations. That's now changing," he said.

"President Trump appears to understand that if people think they can come here illegally and stay even after being caught, more will keep coming. By using the authority Congress gave him to incentivize these nations into cooperating, for instance, by threatening to cut-off their visa-privileges, they'll start to understand that we take our right to sovereign independence seriously," Wilcox added.

Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at pbedard@washingtonexaminer.com