Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s deportations of undocumented migrants increased slightly this year compared to last, with significant rises in the number of family members removed from the U.S.
In a report released Wednesday, ICE said it deported more than 267,000 undocumented immigrants in fiscal year 2019 (ending Sept. 30) ― a 4% increase from fiscal 2018. The majority of those deported were from Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. The Central American countries all face extreme poverty and some of the world’s highest homicide rates.
ICE notably deported more than 5,700 undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as family units ― a 110% increase in the deportations of family members compared to the previous year. The agency also deported over 6,000 unaccompanied minors, a 14% increase over 2018.
These deportations still represent a fraction of the more than 540,000 family members and unaccompanied children who crossed the border last year, most of whom were released into the U.S., per The Washington Post.
ICE did not immediately respond to a HuffPost request for comment on the rise in family members and unaccompanied children deported.
ICE agents arrested about 143,000 undocumented immigrants in the interior of the country, where the agency primarily operates ― Customs and Border Protection is responsible for apprehensions at the border ― a decrease of nearly 10% compared to 2018.
While more than 86% of those arrested by ICE had criminal convictions or pending charges, per the agency, the vast majority of these were for drug- or driving-related offenses.
Earlier this week in Congress, Democratic lawmakers introduced sweeping legislation aiming to overhaul the immigration system, which included decriminalizing border crossings. It also included reforming laws that broadly make contact with the criminal justice system a threat to immigrants’ status in the U.S. ― including an end to automatic deportation proceedings for people convicted of certain crimes.
In a news release Wednesday, acting ICE director Matthew Albence lamented the lower numbers of arrests, blaming the “unprecedented surge” of migrants who crossed the border into the U.S. this year. He said the agency had to “redirect resources” and reassign about 350 officers to the border.
There was a 68% increase of migrants apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border this year compared to last, per CBP data ― and nearly 65% were families and unaccompanied children. Migrants arrested at the border “often do not have any known criminal history,” per ICE’s report.
“There is no doubt that the border crisis, coupled with the unwillingness of some local jurisdictions that choose to put politics over public safety, has made it more difficult for ICE to carry out its congressionally mandated interior enforcement mission,” Albence said.
Last summer, Trump in a tweet said planned ICE raids would remove “millions” of undocumented immigrants from the U.S. In response, many local mayors said their cities wouldn’t cooperate and advocacy groups warned potentially affected community members. While ICE’s subsequent operation targeted over 2,000 families, per The Washington Post, only 18 people were arrested.
This year ICE also held a record number of immigrants in detention, with an average daily population of over 50,000 detainees and at times over 56,000 held, per ICE’s report ― representing an increase of 19% compared to 2018. People were detained for an average of 34 days.
Reports have long noted all-too-often unsanitary and unsafe conditions for migrants detained in ICE facilities. A report from human rights groups in 2018, for instance, identified over a dozen deaths of immigrants in ICE custody in recent years. The report said “substandard” care was given to migrants in nearly all cases, and “inadequate” medical treatment “likely” contributed or led to detainees’ deaths in over half of them.