Under President Joe Biden, deportations by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) dove sharply last year, to the lowest levels recorded by the agency. According to data released in an annual report, this is despite record-high border crossings.
During the 2021 fiscal year, ending on September 30, ICE recorded 59,011 deportations. This is a drop from 185,884 in 2020. The lower numbers are partially the result of changes in enforcement resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic. U.S. agents have been able to quickly expel illegal border crossers under the Title 42 public health code, which does not require formal deportation.
However, immigration arrests in the U.S. interior, another gauge of ICE enforcement activity, showed a significant drop compared with historical averages. ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) officers made 74,082 administrative arrests in 2021. In comparison, during the fiscal year 2020, 104,000 were arrested, while the annual average from 2017 through 2019 was 148.000.
According to the Biden administration, the figure reflects the shift in efforts emphasizing “quality over quantity” by directing ICE to prioritize immigrants who pose national security and public safety threats.
The ICE report said that 12,025 individuals were arrested with aggravated felony convictions last year. The number was near double the 2020 total. ICE emphasized that the targeted operation resulted in the arrest of 495 “noncitizen sex offenders,” more than double the number taken into custody in 2020, from 54 different countries.
“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,” said the agency’s acting director Tae Johnson a statement.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, the 59,011 deportations reported by ICE last year were the lowest since 1995.
Biden breaks with Trump’s tough enforcement approach
President Joe Biden campaigned for president, promising to break with former President Trump’s aggressive enforcement approach. After assuming office, Biden ordered a “pause” on deportations that left officers overwhelmed and upended the agency’s operations.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas issued new guidance to officers ordering them to prioritize public safety, national security, and recent border-crossers. The Biden administration says it allowed it to better focus on already-spread-thin border resources on serious criminals.
Secretary Mayorkas met personally with ICE officers to instruct them to use more discretion when making arrests and adopt a more ‘sympathetic’ approach toward immigrants who have been living for years in the U.S. and are not serious criminals.
GOP members have blasted the Biden administration over the drastic decline in deportations and interior immigration arrests and blamed the surge of illegal migrants swamping the border on Biden’s more lenient policies.
According to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, a record high has 1.7 million border-crossers have been detained during the 2021 fiscal year. States, including Arizona, Texas, and Louisiana, are awaiting court rulings that could overturn the new enforcement priorities.
Mayorkas has also withdrawn ICE from two county detention facilities in Georgia and Massachusetts that he said did not meet his standards and stopped detaining families. Last year, the secretary told Congress that he was concerned about the ICE “overuse” of detention.
Despite Biden’s campaign promise to end the practice of detention, ICE holds growing numbers of immigrants at private facilities. According to records, more than 19,000 immigrants are being held in detention centers, most apprehended at the southwest border.
According to the Migration Policy Institute, approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants live in the United States, with most of them here for over a decade. Democrats in Congress have attempted to pass a bill to make immigrants permanent residents. However, their efforts have stalled in the divided Senate.