ICE is currently monitoring nearly 1.2 million illegal immigrants who’ve been ordered deported but have not yet left the U.S. — and nearly all of them are still free in the community, the agency told a federal court this week, revealing the monumental task of policing them all.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detailed its docket as part of the lawsuit challenging President Biden’s 100-day deportation pause.
Peter B. Berg, acting deputy executive associate director for ICE’s deportation operations, said fewer than 6,000 people with deportation orders, known in the business as final orders of removal, are in the agency’s custody.
Another 1.18 million are free in communities across the U.S.
Mr. Berg said of the tens of thousands who have been given a final order of removal over the last two years, less than 18% have actually been deported.
He said the other 82% range from cases where migrants have appealed their deportations to regular federal courts, to people whose home countries won’t take them back, to “those who were not removed because of discretionary determinations.”
In addition to the nearly 1.2 million people awaiting deportation, ICE’s docket includes another 2.1 million people in the middle of fighting their cases in the immigration court system who do not yet have final deportation orders.
Customs and Border Protection, another enforcement agency, told the court it was holding 1,503 people in its border facilities as of Feb. 10.
The judge had asked for the numbers as he ponders the legality of Mr. Biden’s Inauguration Day attempt to halt almost all deportations for 100 days. The judge has issued a temporary restraining order after ruling the Biden administration didn’t provide a good enough justification.
Despite the judge’s order, the Biden team has announced new priorities that have further curtailed deportations and prompted more releases.
Over the first 10 days of the Biden administration, 511 people with deportation orders were released, Mr. Berg said.
Those released by ICE can face conditions, such as regular check-ins for at least a year, Mr. Berg said in a court filing. Those with criminal records are required to “report” once every other month, while those without criminal records can go twice that long. Those actively seeking asylum only have to check in twice in the year.
After one year, ICE field offices can limit the check-ins, Mr. Berg said.
ICE released nearly 23,000 people who had deportation orders over the last two years, Mr. Berg said. Of those, 447 have broken the terms of their release to the point of being declared fugitives, he said.
ICE has relatively few people on the lookout for those at-large — there are just 129 Fugitive Operations teams tracking down people who have been given removal orders but haven’t gone.
Jessica Vaughan, policy studies director at the Center for Immigration Studies, said the number of teams “has always been insufficient.”
She also said the 1.2 million number is bound to grow, giving a confluence of migration trajectories and Biden policies.
Ms. Vaughan said that with the end of stricter Trump-era immigration policies, more people who jump the border and fight their cases in court will have more chances to abscond.
And under new ICE guidance, many illegal immigrants are no longer considered deportation targets, which will leave them free in the country.