The Trump administration has deported fewer people overall in the 100 days since the president signed an executive order calling for ramped up enforcement of immigration laws than over the same period last year, but related arrests increased dramatically according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
ICE arrested more than 41,000 people between Jan. 22 and April 29, a 37 percent increase over the same period in 2016. Total removals, however, dropped 12 percent. Trump’s order attempted to “take the shackles off” ICE agents by eliminating restrictions on who should be deported and enabling more prioritized removals.
Of the arrests, about 75 percent were convicted criminals. Arrests of those not convicted of a crime, however -- which the Obama administration deprioritized in its immigration enforcement -- spiked by more than 150 percent to 10,800. Undocumented presence in the country is considered a civil, rather than a criminal, offense.
» Get the best federal news and ideas delivered right to your inbox. Sign up here.
“ICE will no longer exempt any class of individuals from removal proceedings if they are found to be in the country illegally,” ICE acting Director Thomas Homan said Wednesday. “If we don’t take action on deportations, then we’re just spinning our wheels, aren’t we?”
Still, removals since Trump signed the EO have dropped to 56,000 from 63,600. Homan pointed primarily to a backlog at the Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review for the deportation decrease. Trump has directed Justice to identify efficiencies in and devote more resources toward court proceedings for immigrants and asylum seekers.
While ICE appears to be already overloading the system, it is working on a multi-year plan to triple the size of its Enforcement and Removal Operations staff as required by Trump’s order. Homan said he was not concerned with further overwhelming detention facilities and immigration courts, adding ICE is currently arresting just a small fraction of the undocumented immigrants in the country.
“We have more work than we have resources,” he said. “We could certainly use more resources.” He added, “We certainly think” the administration will eventually restore the deportation rate to that experienced under President Obama.
Homan said he was not sure the origin of the 10,000 figure Trump dictated as a hiring goal for ICE.
“Ten-thousand did not come from ICE,” the acting director said. “I don’t know where it came from but it did not come from ICE.”
Homan also offered an impassioned defense of ICE’s workforce, saying critics were unfairly targeting law enforcement officers who were simply doing their jobs. He denied that ICE agents are “overzealous,” explaining they are “prioritizing exactly the way they should be prioritizing.” He said that incidents of detainees resisting arrest have spiked sharply and that states and cities declining to work with the agency are making its job harder. Despite those issues, he said, morale has improved.