Arrests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents skyrocketed during the first 100 days of the Trump administration, according to data released Wednesday by the agency. ICE agents detained more than 41,000 people, or more than 400 per day — an increase of nearly 37 percent from the same period last year.
ICE touted the numbers with a splashy multimedia page on its website, highlighting the fact that "nearly 75 percent of those arrested during this period in 2017 are convicted criminals, with offenses ranging from homicide and assault to sexual abuse and drug-related charges." But there was also a huge surge in "non-criminal arrests," meaning immigration agents are detaining more and more people whose only crime is not having the right papers.
During Trump's first 100 days, ICE arrested roughly 10,800 undocumented people with no criminal record, a massive spike of more than 150 percent compared to the 4,200 non-criminal undocumented immigrants detained over the same period in 2016.
"These statistics reflect President Trump's commitment to enforce our immigration laws fairly and across the board," said ICE Acting Director Thomas Homan. "ICE agents and officers have been given clear direction to focus on threats to public safety and national security, which has resulted in a substantial increase in the arrest of convicted criminal aliens. However, when we encounter others who are in the country unlawfully, we will execute our sworn duty and enforce the law."
The numbers caused outcry among immigration advocates, with the ACLU's Chris Rickerd declaring that "suffering families and separated children are casualties of Trump's mass deportation agenda." The Obama administration deported a record number of undocumented immigrants, but ICE was under orders to target people with criminal records. In one of his first acts in office, Trump signed an executive order that makes virtually anyone who is in the country without authorization a priority for deportation.
ICE spokespersons have repeatedly told VICE News that the agency does not conduct "sweeps" or dragnets that indiscriminately round-up people who are suspected of being in the country illegally. Instead, ICE insists it only conducts "targeted enforcement actions," where agents plan raids on certain locations or track down specific individuals. But if ICE agents encounter undocumented individuals with no criminal record in those situations, they can and will take them into custody. Such detentions are called "collateral arrests."
The most alarming part about the enormous uptick in arrests of non-criminals is that it barely scratches the surface of ICE's ability to detain and deport. The agency could reverse its policy on sweeps tomorrow, allowing agents to ensnare even more otherwise law-abiding undocumented people. The Republican-controlled Congress could also enact new laws to crackdown even harder on illegal immigration, and such measures are already in the works.
On Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee will consider three bills that an ACLU attorney said would "provide rocket fuel for President Trump's mass deportation agenda." The most significant bill, the Davis-Oliver Act, would allow for stricter immigration enforcement at the local level, and devote more manpower and resources to ramping up deportations. The proposal has received a ringing endorsement from the anti-immigrant group FAIR.
"House Republicans are embracing that agenda by moving forward legislation that doubles down on Trump's promises to arrest, jail, and banish immigrant families," said Kamal Essaheb, policy and advocacy director of the National Immigration Law Center's Immigrant Justice Fund. "In rubber-stamping Trump's deportation wish list, House Republicans are proposing to spend billions more in taxpayer dollars and expand unchecked and abusive authority of federal immigration officials in our backyards."
In a call with reporters on Wednesday, acting ICE chief Homan said that despite the increase in arrests, deportations have actually declined by about 12 percent under Trump. The counterintuitive stat is the result of fewer people being detained along the border, where it's easier for immigration authorities to swiftly process cases. People who are caught in the interior of the country typically have stronger claims to legal residency, and their cases often take years to process.
The Obama administration left Trump with immigration courts that are severely backlogged. As of April 2017, the average immigration case has been pending for about 670 days, according to the latest data compiled by Syracuse University's Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. Nationwide, immigration courts struggling to clear a backlog of nearly 586,000 pending cases. The Trump administration has taken steps to address the problem, but the soaring ICE arrest numbers could end up making matters even worse.