The nation’s top immigration authorities declared a big victory Tuesday in the immigration crackdown ordered by President Donald Trump, heralding at news conferences that immigration arrests were up 25 percent for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30.
But former President Barack Obama still retains his title of deporter-in-chief because actual deportations during Trump’s first fiscal year were down 6 percent compared to the previous year.
Thomas Homan, the deputy director of ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said in media briefings Tuesday that the decline in removal of unauthorized immigrants was actually a good thing because it reflects a drop in arrests by the Border Patrol.
“There is no population that’s off the table,” Homan said, repeating an often-used phrase. “We are hitting on all cylinders with current resources.”
The rise in arrests indicates greater enforcement, while the drop in deportations is because there are fewer new arrivals across the border, Homan said. Immigration courts are severely backlogged and that is also a contributing factor.
The agency said deportations are at a 45-year-low.
The Dallas regional office of ICE continued to lead the nation in the number of arrests of immigrants, who can be in the U.S. unlawfully or lawfully. The regional office covers half the state’s counties and Oklahoma.
Mark Krikorian, head of the nonprofit Center for Immigration Studies, which favors a crackdown on legal and illegal immigration, agreed about reasons for deportation decline. Deportations were down, he said, “but that is only because border apprehensions are down so much that the Border Patrol has fewer people to hand over to ICE.”
At the Washington Office on Latin America, a left-of-center think tank, Adam Isacson also agreed.
“It did show the power of the tough rhetoric that Trump had,” said Isacson, WOLA director for defense oversight. “But why build a wall and increase Border Patrol” with such low apprehension numbers, Isacson said.
The pace of deportations during the Obama years grew so swiftly that he was dubbed deporter-in-chief by Latino immigration advocates who have long pushed for a way to legalize the estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S.
Mexican arrests at historic low
Tucked in the data released Tuesday was another record: The apprehensions of Mexican nationals was the lowest annual total in at least 48 years, Isacson said. About 128,000 Mexicans were apprehended by the Border Patrol at the U.S.-Mexico border, he noted.
WASHINGTON, DC – DECEMBER 5: End of year statistics are displayed on a monitor as Thomas Homan, Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), speaks during a Department of Homeland Security press conference to announce end-of-year numbers regarding immigration enforcement, border security and national security, December 5, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
The nation’s clogged immigration courts are also slowing the deportation process as immigrants fight against deportation before a judge, analysts said.
There are about 650,000 cases pending in the federal immigration court system, according to a Syracuse University nonprofit called the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, or TRAC. Nationally, a case can now take nearly two years to make it through the court system, but in Texas the process is longer at two years and four months, according to TRAC.
A further complication: There are about 550,000 outstanding final orders of removal issued by immigration judges.
Matt Albence, ICE’s executive associate director over the agency’s enforcement and removal operations, and Homan said they need to find more rigorous ways to apprehend immigrants who fall off the radar.
“If there is no certainty at the end of the judicial process, than there is no judicial process,” Albence said during a telephone news conference Tuesday.
ICE also reported that there was a spike in the number of assaults against its personnel. It reported 42 incidents, compared with 9 in the previous fiscal year. Many of the assaults were committed against the ICE enforcement and removal staff, ICE spokeswoman Sarah Rodriguez said.
ICE, largely charged with interior enforcement, reported about 143,000 immigrants were arrested in the interior of the U.S. At the border, U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported it made about 310,000 arrests — a decline of 25 percent from a year earlier.
CBP handles border enforcement. But ICE handles some deportations for the Border Patrol, part of CBP. Both agencies are part of the Department of Homeland Security.
The years-long diaspora from the Central American countries of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala continued. The number of families detained, mostly from those three countries, has been climbing since May, according to Border Patrol figures. For the fiscal year, about 76,000 persons travelling in families were apprehended. That is only about 2,000 less than fiscal year 2016.
The number of unaccompanied immigrant minors apprehended was about 41,000 for the fiscal year just ended. Nearly 60,000 were apprehended last fiscal year.