The U.S. government is detaining more immigrants in the U.S. interior under President Donald Trump’s administration, while deporting fewer, federal immigration officials announced Tuesday.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, whose officers pick up people for deportation away from the border, made 143,470 arrests, an increase of 25 percent from 114,434 a year earlier, according to data for the 2017 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30. The agency also said Tuesday deportations totaled 226,119, a decline of six percent from the previous year.
But the FY 2017 data also shows that federal agents made 25 percent fewer arrests at the border, dropping to a 45-year low of 310,531. Though the reason for the lower numbers at the border is unclear, Acting ICE Director Thomas Homan attributed it to better border control.
"While the historic low in CPB’s border apprehensions led to a slight decline in overall removals, ICE’s strong interior enforcement efforts nearly made up all the difference. Overall removals are down because the border’s under better control than it has been in 45 years. That’s a good story,” Homan told reporters.
The reduction in border arrests may also account for the decrease in deportations, since ICE often takes custody of people detained at the border by U.S. Customs and Border Protection before deporting them.
Homan denied the increase in interior arrests came because ICE has been using scattershot methods.
“I read a lot of stories and comments over the last several months falsely accusing ICE of conducting indiscriminate raids and sweeps, arresting people at churches, arresting people at hospitals . I repeatedly said that is false," Homan said. "We conduct targeted enforcement operations, every person we arrest, we know exactly who we’re going to arrest and where we’re going to arrest them based on a lot of investigative intelligence data."
As evidence, Homan pointed to what his agency said was 92 percent (101,722) of aliens ICE administratively arrested between January 20, 2017 and the end of FY 2017, were removable aliens who had a criminal conviction or a pending criminal charge, were an ICE fugitive, or were an illegal re-entrant.
January 20 was when Trump took office, vowing to cut back on illegal immigration. President Barack Obama’s tenure had prioritized the detention and deportation of undocumented immigrants who committed serious crimes, while allowing those with a clean criminal record – especially those with close family ties - to often remain as long as they checked in with ICE agents periodically.
Homan indicated that policy has changed. “There is no population off the table,” he said. “If you are in this country illegally, we're going to get you.”
Immigrant activists have decried the Trump administration’s pro-deportation stance, calling for Congress to act legislatively to protect undocumented immigrants, hundreds of thousands of whom came to the U.S. as children.
Some information for this report was provided by AP.