ICE was the only federal police agency that didn’t record a death attendant to an arrest in the Justice Department’s first-ever study of the matter, which was released this week.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics looked at data from 2016 and 2017 and found 92 arrest-related deaths spread among the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Marshals Service, and even Amtrak Police and National Park Service Rangers.
But U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement was the only agency without one — a striking absence for an agency that recorded more than 300,000 arrests, both criminal and administrative, over the two years, and which critics complain is too aggressive.
ICE’s sister agency at Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, which is the largest federal law enforcement agency and makes hundreds of thousands of arrests each year, recorded 10 arrest-related deaths in 2016 and four in 2017.
“Every death in a law enforcement situation is tragic and agencies must strive to prevent it from happening at all; nevertheless, the relatively safe record of the immigration agencies is praiseworthy, especially considering the conditions in which they operate,” said Jessica Vaughan, policy studies director at the Center for Immigration Studies.
She said ICE’s “spotless” record during the two-year period was particularly commendable.
While most of ICE’s arrests were made in jails, picking up immigrants who had been held by local authorities on other crimes, the rise of sanctuary cities has pushed more ICE teams out into the communities to make at-large arrests.
And Homeland Security Investigations, which operates independently of the deportation side and probes everything from terrorism to computer crimes to street gangs, makes tens of thousands of arrests each year.
The Coast Guard, another Homeland Security agency, recorded one arrest-death in 2016.
At the Justice Department, the FBI had 16 deaths over the two years, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) had three, the DEA had six, and the Marshals Service had 41.
Bureau of Indian Affairs law enforcement reported eight deaths, while National Park Service Rangers recorded one.
Amtrak Police and U.S. Capitol Police also recorded one death each during an arrest in the study period. According to publicly available data, both of those agencies record far fewer arrests per year than ICE’s deportation and HSI branches.
The other side of the federal law enforcement ledger is those being held in custody.
ICE did record 22 deaths over the two-year period within its detained population.
All federal agencies combined, including ICE, tallied 468 deaths in 2016 and 429 in 2017. The Federal Bureau of Prisons had by far the most, followed by the Marshals Service. ICE was third.
“Deaths in ICE custody are exceedingly rare, despite the fact that many individuals come into ICE custody with existing medical conditions or have never before received appropriate medical care,” said Danielle Bennett, a spokeswoman for ICE.
Ms. Vaughan said ICE detention represents about a fourth of the total federal in-custody population, but just a small percentage of deaths.
“Every corrections and detention agency must try to prevent all deaths, but 22 out of nearly 500 total deaths in custody is a tiny share relative to the total number of federal inmates and detainees, and shows that ICE has been more successful than most in managing the challenges of running these facilities,” she said.
The Justice Department report, released Tuesday, is the first of its kind, and is based on data required to be reported under a 2013 law, the Death in Custody Reporting Act.
According to the data, a majority of arrest-related deaths happened while agents were serving active warrants.
Sixteen of the deaths — about 21% — happened in car chases, which was the most common. Another seven came during foot pursuits.
Just 12 arrest-related deaths came during struggles.
Meanwhile 86% of deaths of people already in custody were due to illness. About 7% were suicides.
Of the arrest-related deaths, 66% were White and 26% were Black. Of in-custody deaths, 61% were White and 31% were Black.
Almost all of those who died were male.
Deaths in custody is likely to surge in future reporting with the coronavirus pandemic, which has blazed through group settings such as prisons, jails and ICE detention facilities.
Agencies, often under court order, have rushed to release people from custody to reduce populations.