Immigration and Customs Enforcement is arresting more immigrants, and increasingly they have not been convicted of crimes, according to data released on Thursday by the agency.
About two-thirds of those arrested by ICE from October 2017 to the end of March had no criminal convictions — up from 21 percent during the same period the year before and only 13 percent the year before that. ICE officials noted that some of the arrested immigrants had been charged with a crime but not convicted.
The new figures, which reflect the first two quarters of the 2018 fiscal year, demonstrate that ICE is carrying out the crackdown on unauthorized immigrants that President Donald Trump promised. That means ICE officers are picking up more people with clean records, even if they were previously allowed to remain in the country.
“If somebody has violated our immigration laws, they are priorities now,” Corey Price, the assistant director for enforcement at ICE, told reporters on a conference call, adding that in the final years of Barack Obama’s administration, the agency’s “scope was significantly narrowed.”
Immigrants in the U.S. without authorization or those who violate the terms of their visa are subject to deportation, regardless of whether they have a criminal record. (It is a civil violation, not a criminal one, to be in the U.S. without authorization.)
ICE arrested nearly 80,000 people from October to the end of March, compared with about 63,000 in the same period the year before. By comparison, the agency arrested about 54,000 people in the first half of the 2016 fiscal year, when Obama’s priority enforcement policies and instructed agents to focus on undocumented immigrants with criminal histories.
While ICE’s arrests were up, deportations were slightly down ― from about 126,000 in the first half of the 2017 fiscal year to about 117,000 in the same period in fiscal year 2018. For both periods, about 54 percent of those removed were convicted criminals.
While most deportations originated with arrests by Customs and Border Patrol, ICE’s share rose for the most recent period; ICE arrested 39 percent of the people deported, up 10 percentage points from the previous year.
Trump vowed as a candidate to take constraints off ICE and allow agents to have more discretion on whom to arrest. The president and his administration have taken steps to remove protections that allow more than 1 million people to stay in the U.S. ― which could expose more immigrants to risk of deportation.
He typically frames his immigration comments around crime. During a meeting at the White House with leaders from California on Wednesday, after a question about MS-13, a gang started in the U.S. by Salvadoran immigrants, he praised his administration for “taking people out of the country.”
“You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are,” Trump said. “These aren’t people. These are animals. And we’re taking them out of the country at a level and at a rate that’s never happened before.”