Sanctuary cities expanded in 2019, cutting into Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s potential deportations. But despite that headwind, the agency still managed to reach a five-year high for removals, breaking the previous high-water mark under President Trump.
The number of Cubans kicked out of the country soared, while Guatemalans, Hondurans and Salvadorans also rose, thanks to better cooperation and a larger supply of targets from this year’s border surge.
Deportations to Mexico fell from 55% of the total to 48%, as ICE made fewer arrests in the interior of the country.
The agency said the reasons are two-fold: Hundreds of officers had to be shifted to the border to deal with the new surge, and the growing wingspan of sanctuary jurisdictions is reducing the number of easy targets — those ICE used to be able to pick up at prisons and jails, but now is blocked from doing so.
Acting ICE Director Matthew T. Albence said the agency deported 13,000 fewer people in fiscal 2019 than the previous year, which he tied to the “decreased cooperation.”
“Sanctuary cities and counties around the country provide safe haven to criminal illegal aliens, harboring dangerous offenders and releasing them back to the streets, where many will re-offend. These are preventable crimes, and more importantly, preventable victims,” he said.
ICE has yet to release its 2019 numbers for declined detainers — unfulfilled requests to local authorities to alert the government to the impending release of a target illegal immigrant and, in some cases, to hold the person for pickup.
But ICE did calculate that in North Carolina alone, state law enforcement refused at least 563 detainers over the course of fiscal 2019, which ran from Oct. 1, 2018, to Sept. 30, 2019. The agency blamed that on expanding sanctuary policies in the state’s biggest jurisdictions.
ICE said Mecklenburg County, home to Charlotte, ended cooperation with ICE under what’s known as a 287(g) agreement, further shielding immigrants who are in the country illegally.
ICE says it missed out on getting eyeballs on as many as 1,000 migrants and had 300 fewer deportations from Mecklenburg alone.
Mecklenburg Sheriff Garry L. McFadden bristled at the complaint, saying ICE was distorting the data.
“I have no idea what they would put those numbers against,” he said. “I don’t think 1,000 people came to my jail that were eligible for removal. ICE is playing with numbers.”
He says his hands are tied on detainers. Immigrant releases are done in accordance with a judge’s order or when someone has fulfilled the conditions for release.
He said the public isn’t able to discern what’s really going on — and he saw a bias in ICE’s singling him and other North Carolina sheriffs out for criticism.
“They are using the public who is very uneducated about these issues to attack the African American sheriffs in North Carolina,” he said. “ICE has never attacked sheriffs, the law enforcement, the way they are attacking us. Nowhere in the country.”
Sheriff McFadden went through a previously published ICE list of targets released by local authorities and said at least half of them had come back to the U.S. after being removed. He said ICE could — and should — charge them with a federal felony, and he said his deputies would respond to that.
“I don’t honor detainers, but if my deputies stop one of those guys on the street with a tail light out, he runs his name [through criminal databases], it will show he has a federal arrest warrant. I, and my deputies, would arrest him,” the sheriff said.
Nationwide, ICE said it issued 7% fewer detainer requests last year. The agency blamed both growing sanctuaries and the diversion of resources to the border.
Nationwide, ICE removed 267,258 immigrants who were in the country illegally in 2019. That’s higher than the previous two years under Mr. Trump, and the final couple years of President Obama.
But it’s still well shy of the 409,849 deportations Mr. Obama notched in 2012 — a record that earned him the label “deporter-in-chief” from the National Council of La Raza.
Unidos, which is what the group is now called, declined to comment on Mr. Trump’s deportation numbers.
Jessica Vaughan, policy studies director at the Center for Immigration Studies, said this year’s numbers aren’t particularly impressive.
That’s partly because so much of ICE’s work dealt with people arrested by Customs and Border Protection, rather than ICE’s own interior arrests. On an average day last year, 60% of ICE’s detained population was from CBP and just 40% was ICE arrests. The previous year CBP accounted for just 46%.
And even then, the 20,000 more border removals were tiny compared to the massive surge of hundreds of thousands migrant families, a majority of whom were caught-and-released into the U.S.
ICE’s non-detained docket — people free in the communities — topped 3 million for the first time, growing 24% in just the last year.
“The people who are in detention are staying there longer, and the people who aren’t detained are benefiting from the huge backlogs of cases that enables them to settle in while awaiting a hearing, and then ignore the outcome when it doesn’t go their way,” Ms. Vaughan said.
“The Trump administration needs to step up its efforts to assert ICE’s legitimate authority to enforce the laws efficiently and fairly without endless abuse of due process.”