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The Journal Gazette

Friday, September 29, 2017 1:00 am

Fewer deportations this year even as arrests increase 43%

Washington Post

Despite President Donald Trump's push for tougher immigration enforcement, U.S. agents are on pace to deport fewer people in the government's 2017 fiscal year than during the same period last year, the latest statistics reveal.

Trump took office pledging to round up as many as 3 million drug dealers, gang members and other criminals he said were living in the United States illegally. But the most recent figures from Immigration and Customs Enforcement indicate the government may be having a hard time finding enough eligible “bad hombres,” as the president described them, to quickly meet those targets.

As of Sept. 9, three weeks before the end of the 2017 fiscal year, ICE had deported 211,068 immigrants, according to the most recent figures provided by the agency. ICE removed 240,255 people during the government's 2016 fiscal year.

The lower totals are not for lack of effort. According to ICE, its agents have made 43 percent more arrests since Trump took office versus the same period last year.

While ICE took into custody more immigrants with criminal records, the fastest-growing category of arrests since Trump's inauguration are those facing no criminal charges. The agency arrested more than 28,000 “non-criminal immigration violators” between Jan. 22 and Sept. 2, according to the agency's records, a nearly threefold increase over the same period in 2016.

“ICE has taken the gloves off, and they are going after whoever they want and for whatever reason,” said Ray Ybarra Maldonado, an immigration attorney in Phoenix. “It's a free-for-all now.”

The number of people attempting to sneak across the U.S. border with Mexico fell dramatically in the months following Trump's inauguration, reducing the supply of easy-to-deport immigrants. And while the administration has directed ICE to ramp up enforcement, antipathy toward the president's policies has supercharged the fundraising ability of advocacy groups and pro-bono law firms that help immigrants fight deportation.

The additional arrests and litigation appear to be putting a new burden on the U.S. federal immigration court system, which faces a backlog of more than 600,000 cases. It may take years before immigrants arrested under Trump can be deported after exhausting their appeals.

Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, said Trump “is keeping his promise to the American people to secure the border, deport illegal immigrants, and fix an immigration system that has long been broken.”