- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Homeland Security’s deportations plunged nearly 30% over the past year, officials said Wednesday, blaming the pressures of the pandemic for sapping them of the ability to find and oust immigrants who are in the country illegally.

The 185,884 removals recorded by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement during fiscal 2020 was the lowest since 2002, and leaves President Trump far below the pace set by President Obama.

ICE also announced its officers made 103,603 arrests in fiscal 2020, the lowest level in years and marking a massive drop from about 143,000 arrests made in 2019.

Instead, ICE said, it’s been focused on trying to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

That included obeying court orders demanding that it reduce its detention populations to stop spread of the disease and blocking bogus virus cures and counterfeit protective equipment.



ICE also used some of its charter flight capacity, which is generally used for deportations, to pick up U.S. persons stranded in other countries amid a worldwide travel slowdown at the beginning of the pandemic.

Acting ICE Director Tony Pham said they helped return more than 1,000 people to the U.S. that way.

“This is but one example of ICE’s nimble efforts to complete our mission, serve our country and safeguard the homeland and her citizens,” he said.

Of the more than 185,000 people ICE did deport, the agency said 4,276 were deemed to be gang members and 31 were known or suspected terrorists.

Nearly 14,500 of those deported were part of “family units,” meaning they came across the border as parents and children. Another 4,056 were Unaccompanied Alien Children (UACs), who arrived at the border without parents.

Over the past few years, nearly 900,000 UACs and family unit members were caught by the Border Patrol and most were released into the country. The relatively small number of removals underscores the trouble Homeland Security faces in ensuring they leave if they lose their cases.

Mr. Trump made immigration enforcement and deportations a major focus of his term in office, vowing to oust those living in the country without permission or who broke the terms of their immigration status.

But he never matched Mr. Obama’s records for removals, which is the formal term for deportations.

The Trump administration notched about 935,000 removals from fiscal 2017, which began in October 2016, through fiscal 2020, which ended Sept. 30.

By contrast Mr. Obama oversaw 1.6 million removals his first four years, and 1.2 million over his second four years. That hefty pace led Hispanic-rights activists to label Mr. Obama as “deporter-in-chief.”

President-elect Joseph R. Biden, who was Mr. Obama’s vice president, has vowed to go a different direction.

One headwind ICE faced under Mr. Trump was the growth of sanctuary communities, and the decision by a number of large jurisdictions to stop reporting to ICE when undocumented immigrants are about to be released from prisons or jails.

Where in the past a single ICE officer could arrange several arrests a day in jails in some jurisdictions, it now takes a team of perhaps 10 officers to track down and stake out targets out in the community.

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