US immigration arrests plummet to record low levels

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According to a US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) annual report, immigration arrests and deportations plummeted to record low levels in 2021, despite record-high border crossings. During the 2021 fiscal year (FY), which ended on September 30, 2021, ICE recorded 59,011 deportations, down from 185,884 in 2020.


The number of deportations is the lowest in ICE’s history, and is partly attributed to enforcement changes triggered amid the coronavirus pandemic, which allowed US immigration agents to ‘rapidly expel’ people crossing US borders unlawfully under the Title 42 public health code.

Meanwhile, US immigration arrests also showed a significant drop compared with historic averages, according to the ICE annual report. ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) made approximately 74,082 administrative arrests during FY 2021, down from 104,000 during FY 2020 and an average of 148,000 annually from 2017 through 2019.


Quality over quantity

Biden administration officials claim that the figures ‘reflect the administration’s efforts to emphasize quality over quantity’ by directing ICE to prioritize immigrants who pose a threat to public safety and national security.

The ICE annual report revealed that in FY 2021, 12,025 individuals with aggravated felony convictions were arrested -  nearly double the total arrested in 2020.

The US immigration agency highlighted that a targeted operation led to the arrest of 495 ‘non-citizen sex offenders’ from 54 different nations - more than double the number arrested in 2020.

ICE’s acting director, Tae Johnson, said: “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.”

According to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) statistics, the 59,011 deportations reported in 2021 was the lowest number since 1995.

ICE, which was established in 2003, has more than 20,000 employees across its civil, criminal and legal operations and has an annual budget of approximately $8 billion.


Breaking from previous US immigration policies

During his presidential campaign, Biden promised to break away from Trump’s aggressive US immigration policies and the mass arrest of immigrants. After taking office, Biden ordered a pause on deportations, which disrupted ICE’s operations and led to complaints from immigration officers that their agency had been ‘eliminated by administrative means’.

Following this, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas issued new guidance to officers, instructing them to prioritize individuals who represent a public or national security threat, as well as more recent border-crossers. The Biden administration claims that this allows officials to ‘better focus resources on serious criminals’.

Mayorkas has also met with US immigration agents in recent weeks, urging them to ‘exercise more discretion’ prior to making an arrest, while instructing them to adopt a more ‘sympathetic approach’ toward immigrants who are not serious criminals and have lived in the United States for years.


Republicans hammer Biden administration

Meanwhile, Republicans have blasted the decline in US immigration arrests and deportations, and blamed rising immigration numbers at the US-Mexico border on more relaxed policies. In FY 2021, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) detained more than 1.7 million people attempting to cross the US-Mexico border – a record high.

Tom Homan, the acting ICE director under former US President Donald Trump, claimed that the Biden administration has ‘shelved’ immigration enforcement with the United States at the ‘behest of radical leftists’ who want to see ICE abolished.

Homan said: “From day one, this administration has pushed policies that have made it effectively impossible to detain or deport around 90% of the illegal aliens currently in the United States, while at the same time releasing tens of thousands of illegal aliens into the country in the past year.”

Fewer US immigration arrests and deportations have prompted the states of Arizona, Louisiana and Texas to sue over the Biden administration’s immigration enforcement priorities and are awaiting court rulings that could overturn them.

However, Mayorkas has expressed concerns over the ‘overuse’ of immigration detention, fears he shared with Congress in 2021.

ICE holds a growing number of immigrants at private facilities, despite Biden promising to end the practice.


Shift needed

Executive director of the Detention Watch Network, Silky Shah, said: “We really want to see some shifts. US officials don’t need to put people seeking asylum in detention, period.”

“The government should stop detaining people for civil immigration violations, especially those who have already served their time for criminal offenses. We don’t believe anybody should be detained. What we need to do is reduce the system,” Shah added. can help with US employment-based visas

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