The Biden administration slashed interior immigration arrests by about half compared to the Trump years, according to an overdue report released Friday that details the massive changes at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
ICE said it made 74,082 arrests in fiscal year 2021, down from more than 103,000 the previous year and more than 143,000 in 2019.
Actual deportations also plummeted to 59,011. Under former President Barack Obama, those numbers topped 400,000 in some years, and under former President Donald Trump, they topped 300,000 in some years. Deportations of gang members dipped by more than 50% compared to the middle of the Trump years.
Agency officials, briefing reporters, said they hadn’t looked to see if 2021 marked the worst numbers ever, but they said they were pleased with the results of their new policy of disregarding most illegal immigrants in favor of “priority” targets.
“We are focusing on what we consider quality arrests,” a senior ICE official said.
As an example, the official said that arrests and removals of documented aggravated felons are at their highest level ever. Under the Biden administration, they tallied 937 aggravated felon deportations a month, compared to 633 a month during the Trump years.
Analysts say that data could be misleading. In past years, officers could make arrests of people without documenting that they were aggravated felons, so they may have been arresting aggravated felons without actually flagging them as such, according to Jessica Vaughan, policy studies director at the Center for Immigration Studies.
The report lacks some key metrics that had been in previous years’ reports. There is no mention, for example, of how many “detainer” deportation requests ICE lodged with other law enforcement agencies.
The 33-page report covers ICE’s deportation operations, its Homeland Security Investigations division, its legal branch and its internal affairs division.
The deportation operations section is seven pages. By contrast in 2020 — the last full year under the Trump administration — the report on deportation operations was 32 pages in length.
The new report does, however, include stats on diversity training and a 26% drop in formal diversity complaints lodged within the agency.
In 2021, 34 known or suspected terrorists were ousted, ICE reported. That’s up from 31 in 2020 but far fewer than the 58 deported in 2019.
Of the 59,011 deportations ICE recorded last year, it says 66% of them had criminal convictions — up from 56% the year before.
But just 2,718 of the deportees were known or suspected gang members. That’s down dramatically from the 4,276 gang members ousted in 2020, and nearly 5,500 ousted in 2019.
ICE cheered the lower numbers and more relaxed policies, saying they reflect a more focused agency. Among those changes was ending longer-term detention of families, who are now being caught and released, and shutting down two contract detention facilities that immigrant-rights activists had complained about.
But the biggest changes came in orders from on high about which immigrants should be targeted for arrest. From February to September, the end of the fiscal year, ICE was operating under rules issued by acting Director Tae Johnson that pushed officers to only arrest people deemed national security risks or aggravated felons.
Mr. Johnson said the numbers show that approach.
“As the annual report’s data reflects, ICE’s officers and special agents focused on cases that delivered the greatest law enforcement impact in communities across the country while upholding our values as a nation,” he said in a statement.
Friday’s report covered fiscal year 2021, which ran from Oct. 1, 2020, to Sept. 30, 2021. ICE usually releases the report by the end of the calendar year.
This year’s report took far longer, and the delay even drew a rebuke from Congress.
Lawmakers put language in a report attached to the new government-wide spending bill approved this week directing ICE to release the annual operations numbers on time.