ICE immigration arrests and deportations in the U.S. interior increased in fiscal year 2022

Arrests and deportations by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) increased in fiscal year 2022 after plummeting to record-low levels in 2021, according to a government report released Friday.

During fiscal year 2022, a 12-month span between Oct. 2021 and Sept. 30, 2022, ICE deportation agents carried out 142,750 immigration arrests and 72,177 deportations, increases of 93% and 22%, respectively, compared to the previous fiscal year. 

While the number of deportations in fiscal year 2022 is the second-lowest tally recorded by ICE, it represents a notable increase from 2021, when arrests and deportations by the agency plunged due to the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on operations and new Biden administration policies that narrowed the population of deportable immigrants agents were instructed to prioritize for deportation. 

Those rules, which prioritized the arrest of immigrants convicted of serious crimes, those deemed to pose a national security threat and migrants who recently entered the U.S. illegally, were struck down in federal court in June due a lawsuit by Republican-led states. The Supreme Court is set to decide in 2023 whether the Biden administration can reinstate the policies.

Founded in 2003, ICE’s immigration enforcement division is charged with monitoring, arresting, detaining and deporting immigrants who are deportable under U.S. law, including those convicted of certain crimes and migrants transferred by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The increase in ICE arrests and deportations in 2022 was mostly a result of the unprecedented levels of unauthorized crossings recorded along the U.S.-Mexico border over the past year, the statistics published Friday show.

In fiscal year 2022, U.S. officials along the southern border reported a record 2.3 million migrant interceptions. Over 1 million of those detentions led to migrants being expelled to Mexico or their home country under a pandemic-related measure known as Title 42, according to federal data.

More than 96,000, or 67%, of the arrests ICE carried out in fiscal year 2022 involved immigrants without criminal convictions or charges, compared to 39% in 2021, a shift the agency attributed to the large number of migrants and asylum-seekers it received from border authorities. Nearly 44,000, or 61%, of the migrants deported in fiscal year 2022 were initially processed by U.S. border officials, Friday’s report said.

Over the past year, 1,000 of ICE’s 6,000 deportation officers were assigned to process and transport migrants arriving along the U.S.-Mexico border. The agency also carried out 117,213 expulsions of migrants processed under the Title 42 border restrictions. Because those expulsions were carried out under a public health law, they were not counted in ICE’s formal deportation tally.

The average number of immigrants held in ICE’s network of county jails and for-profit prisons increased slightly to 26,000, also driven by transfers of migrants from the U.S.-Mexico border. Moreover, ICE’s caseload of immigrants awaiting a decision on their deportation cases outside of detention facilities grew to over 4.7 million cases — a 29% increase from 2021.

Due to insufficient levels of resources and personnel, however, ICE was only closely monitoring 321,000 immigrants in deportation proceedings at the end of fiscal year 2022 through its alternatives to detention program, which uses facial recognition technology, phone calls and GPS systems to track immigrants. 

During a call with reporters on Friday, a senior ICE official who only agreed to answer questions anonymously said the agency would continue to help the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) respond to the “irregular mass migration that’s occurring on the southwest border” in the coming year.

While the Biden administration’s ICE enforcement priorities have been held up in court, agency officials said they are still prioritizing the arrest and deportation of certain categories of deportable immigrants.

“All law enforcement agencies have always allocated their resources to different priorities and different functions. We will continue to focus on national security and public safety threats, and we will continue to focus our efforts to those that undermine the integrity of the immigration process,” the senior ICE official said.

Arrests and deportations of immigrants with criminal records remained at similar levels as 2021. ICE arrested 46,396 immigrants with criminal convictions or charges in fiscal year 2022, up from 45,432 in 2021. It also deported 44,096 immigrants with criminal convictions or charges, compared to 44,933 in 2021.

Among those deported in fiscal year 2022, ICE said, were 2,667 suspected or known gang members, 56 suspected or known terrorists and 7 human rights violators, whom the agency labeled as high-priority removals.

President Biden’s administration moved to reshape ICE’s practices soon after he took office in Jan. 2021, scrapping Trump-era rules that broadened the population subject to deportation and expanded immigration detention. The administration also tried to enact an 100-day moratorium on most deportations, but that effort was blocked in federal court. 

While its rules to generally exempt unauthorized immigrants who have lived in the U.S. for years from arrest if they have clean records are currently held up in court, the Biden administration has issued other policies to limit the scope of ICE enforcement operations. 

The administration has instructed the agency to discontinue mass work-site arrests and the long-term detention of families with minor children, and to refrain from arresting pregnant women, victims of serious crimes and military veterans. 

Republican lawmakers have strongly criticized the changes at ICE, as well as the low number of interior deportations, accusing the Biden administration of not fully enforcing U.S. immigration laws amid record levels of migrant apprehensions along the U.S.-Mexico border.

But the Biden administration has argued its policies are designed to make the best use of ICE’s limited resources by prioritizing the arrest of those deemed to pose the greatest threats to the country’s national security, public safety and border security.

Beyond ICE’s immigration branch, the agency also oversees Homeland Security Investigations, a law enforcement office that focuses on fighting transnational crime like migrant and drug smuggling, human trafficking and child exploitation. 

In its report Friday, ICE said the work of its Homeland Security Investigations branch in fiscal year 2022 led to nearly 37,000 criminal arrests, more than 13,000 convictions, $5 billion in seized currency and assets and 9,382 weapon confiscations. 

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