By Charlotte Cuthbertson
WASHINGTON—More than 267,000 aliens were deported by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in fiscal 2019, slightly up (4.4 percent) from the previous year, the agency said on Dec. 11.
However, the surge at the southern border, on top of sanctuary jurisdictions, drew resources away from interior enforcement, and arrests of convicted criminals by ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) decreased by 12 percent.
Acting Director for ICE Matthew Albence said the decrease equated to around 13,000 fewer criminal aliens arrested compared to fiscal 2018.
“And what that means is, there’s 13,000 more criminals that we could’ve gotten our hands on, could have got off the street, that are still out there and able to reoffend,” he said.
Eighty-six percent of ERO’s administrative arrests were aliens with criminal convictions or pending criminal charges.
The 123,000 aliens with criminal convictions or pending charges who were arrested by ERO in fiscal 2019 represented a total of 489,000 crimes, convicted and pending.
“Which equates to an average of four criminal arrests or convictions per alien, highlighting the recidivist nature of the aliens that ICE arrests,” ICE stated in a report.
Albence said that with only 5,000 officers working on arresting and removing criminal aliens, ICE’s reach is limited.
“More criminal aliens are out there on the street and these criminal aliens are known to be recidivists. That means there’ll be more victimization out there,” he said.
“Unfortunately, some of our law enforcement partners have chosen not to cooperate with us, when we have a unique capability to actually prevent crimes because we know that these individuals, if we take them off the street, if we take them out of the communities, if we remove them from the country, those are crimes that are not going to be committed that they would have otherwise committed.”
Albence said the agency’s challenges were exacerbated by sanctuary jurisdictions that decreased cooperation with ICE by not sharing information or granting access to jails to allow agents to pick up criminal aliens.
In fiscal 2019, ICE lodged 7 percent fewer detainers, which ask jails to provide information on the release of an alien, or to hold the alien for up to 48 hours for custody transfer.
The more than 165,000 detainers that were lodged included those for aliens with accumulated criminal histories of more than 56,000 assaults, 14,500 sex crimes, 5,000 robberies, 2,500 homicides, and 2,500 kidnappings.
Albence said the number of aliens in ICE custody is around 44,000. But its nondetained docket has increased to 3.2 million—600,000 more than last year and 800,000 more than in fiscal 2017, and the first time it has exceeded 3 million, Albence said.
“Nondetained docket cases could take years—many years, in fact—to work their way through the system, especially depending on the location,” he said.
ICE has also expanded its use of “alternatives to detention” (ATD), mostly through issuing more ankle monitoring bracelets. ATD had 23,000 participants in 2014, whereas it was up to 96,000 by the end of fiscal 2019.
“This expansion has come with a number of challenges, including high levels of absconders among recently enrolled family units,” Albence said. He said family units absconded at a rate of almost 27 percent, more than double the 12.3 percent absconder rate for non-family unit participants.
Albence said for $200 million, ICE removes about 3,000 people a year on the ATD program. He said if that money was instead used to detain aliens during their court cases, “I could probably remove about 10 times that.”
He said the Migrant Protection Protocols, which allow for the United States to return aliens to Mexico while they await their immigration court hearings, has had the biggest impact on fraudulent asylum claims so far.
“This is the whole reason why these single adults were renting children to come across the border illegally and present as a family unit, because they knew that they would be released,” he said. “If they could have been released as a single adult, it would not have involved the process of renting children.”
More than 600,000 aliens are now considered fugitives by ICE. They are those who have been issued a final order of removal by an immigration judge but have not left the United States.
The number of aliens removed back to Mexico (127,000) was the highest, followed by Guatemala (55,000), Honduras (41,000), and El Salvador (19,000).
The next highest countries had fewer than 2,300 removals each: Ecuador, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, Brazil, and India.