- The Washington Times - Friday, December 30, 2016

Agents are catching more illegal immigrants on the border — a sign that illegal immigration is picking up yet again — but nabbed fewer from within the interior of the U.S. over the last year, as President Obama made good on his vow to stop deporting all but the most serious of illegal immigrants, new statistics revealed Friday.

Only 1 percent of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. were caught by interior enforcement agents in fiscal 2016, and more than 90 percent of those had criminal records, Homeland Security said. That means that the millions of illegal immigrants who don’t have a serious record, but who are still here without authorization, had almost no fear of being ousted.

All told, about 114,000 were apprehended by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the fiscal year. That’s down from more than 125,000 in 2015, and a huge drop from 2013, when ICE agents nabbed more than 240,000, and 2011, when they caught 338,000.

“That’s where we’ve really seen changes,” said one Homeland Security official who briefed reporters on the numbers Friday afternoon on condition that he not be named publicly.

Stung by criticism from immigrant-rights advocates who dubbed Mr. Obama the “deporter in chief,” the administration has made a concerted effort to start kicking out fewer migrants from the U.S. He and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson laid out a series of priorities they ordered agents to focus on, and told them to drop other cases.

The priorities include serious felons and national security risks, those with multiple misdemeanors, recent border crossers and those who have been ordered deported since 2014, but who are refusing to go.

Of those ICE kicked out in 2016, nearly 84 percent were the top priority of serious felons, national security risks or gang members, or were caught at the border. Another 13 percent had repeat misdemeanors or were caught in the interior after sneaking in after 2013.

Homeland Security officials briefing reporters said it was a victory for the administration to limit deportations to those priorities.

President-elect Donald Trump during the campaign signaled a tougher line, saying illegal immigrants would “have to go.”

But in the weeks since the Nov. 8 election he has instead said he would focus his deportation efforts on criminals, estimating between 2 million and 3 million people will fall into that category. Analysts say focusing on criminals would be generally the same approach Mr. Obama has taken — though they dispute his estimates, saying far fewer illegal immigrants actually have criminal convictions on their records.

Even as interior agents catch fewer migrants, Border Patrol agents and Customs and Border Protection officers who man the ports of entry are seeing a spike in illegal immigrants attempting to enter.

Homeland Security officials say if more people that are caught at the border, it means more are also getting through — so the numbers signal an overall increase in the flow.

Border Patrol agents caught 415,816 people trying to enter illegally over the last fiscal year, which is up 23 percent compared to 2015. Still, it’s far less than the 1.5 million regularly caught each year in the late 1990s.

CBP officers, meanwhile, encountered nearly 275,000 other migrants who showed up at the ports of entry but who didn’t have permission to enter.

The patterns of migration have shifted in recent years. In the 1990s and early 2000s the flow was primarily Mexicans, but now migrants from Central America — particularly Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador — now make up a larger portion, and many of them are women and children.

Homeland Security Department officials say they are fleeing poor conditions at home and aren’t trying to avoid capture, but are instead showing up and asking to be caught. But security experts, including the new chief of the Border Patrol, say they’re being enticed by lax enforcement here in the U.S.

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