Data from the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) show that arrests of criminal undocumented immigrants are up this year compared to last year, but in some cases, those arrested had no criminal records.
Arrests in San Diego County this year are more than double those from last year, and are approaching the numbers seem before then-President Barack Obama changed the enforcement policies in 2014. In a period of four months this year, 547 individuals were arrested, compared with only 242 last year.
That uptick has been seen around the country since President Donald Trump issued an Executive Order on January 25 to expand ICE’s deportations by focusing on transnational criminal organizations that operate sophisticated drug and human-trafficking networks and smuggling operations.
Most of those arrested had previous charges for aggravated assault, burglary, drug trafficking, child abuse, human trafficking, and sexual assault. These are among the group that Trump himself referred to as “bad hombres”. Most of the arrests are conducted by the Fugitive Operations teams in unmarked vehicles.
But, immigrants’ rights groups have noted that some of those arrested in the raids had either minor offenses, including fraud, DUIs, or marijuana possession, and some had no prior criminal record at all.
During a particularly active period in March and April, 367 people were arrested in raids in various states. Of 75 people arrested in North Texas and Oklahoma, 23 had no criminal record. In South Texas, 16 people of 163 arrested had no records.
In other states, arrests are up even more than in San Diego.
During the first two months of Trump’s Executive Order, ICE arrests totaled 21,362 nationwide, compared to 16,104 during the same period last year. Of those arrested this year, 5,661 had no prior criminal record, the highest percentage in several years.
Three of the cities with the highest number of arrests included Atlanta, Houston, and Dallas, with more than 2,000 arrests each. Atlanta saw an increase of non-criminal arrests with 700 this year compared to only 137 last year. Philadelphia, on the other hand, had the largest increase in total arrests with a 600 percent increase in arrests.
The tougher enforcement has left many local law enforcement officials worried that immigrants are becoming less likely to report other crimes, including abuse and theft, for fear of deportation.
Local police agencies have long argued that their work to build trust in the communities they patrol is eroded when federal agencies aggressively enforce immigration cases without regard to prior criminal records.
Los Angeles Police statistics, for example, show reports of sexual assault and domestic violence among Latinos dropped 25 percent in the beginning of 2017 compared with the same period last year. The drop in reported cases were not consistent with drops among other minority groups.
During the last two years of President Obama’s term, the focus of ICE arrests was on immigrants with criminal backgrounds, including suspected terrorists, gang members, and people involved in organized crime. Of over 240,000 people arrested during that time, nearly 92 percent had records. Immigrants with DUIs, drug arrests, and even spousal abuse were considered second tier priorities.
But, under President Trump’s new directive, ICE will no longer “exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement”, according to a memo released by Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly. Even immigrants on expired visas are now priorities under the new directive.
“ICE agents and officers have been given clear direction to focus on threats to public safety and national security, which has resulted in a substantial increase in the arrest of convicted criminal aliens,” ICE Acting Director Thomas Homan wrote in a statement posted on the ICE website. “However, when we encounter others who are in the country unlawfully, we will execute our sworn duty and enforce the law.”
Tensions between federal agencies and local officials over immigration enforcement cooperation have resulted in several high-profile standoffs. Several states, cities, and counties have passed so-called “sanctuary” policies that prohibit local law enforcement agencies from reporting undocumented immigrants arrested for minor crimes to federal agencies.
President Trump has signed an Executive Order to cut federal funding to localities with sanctuary policies but a California federal judge issued an order blocking its implementation. Since then, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a narrower definition of sanctuary status, but the courts have still not issued a final ruling.