Weekly Wonder: ICE removals and arrests down in 2020

"Protest outside ICE office about Cambodian refugees facing deportation" by Fibonacci Blue is licensed under CC BY 2.0

By Stella Lorence
Boston University News Service

Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrests dropped by 28% and removals dropped by 30% between 2019 and 2020, according to data from the federal agency.

ICE data on arrests and removals is recorded for each of 25 field offices, as well as the National Criminal Analysis and Targeting Center located in Wilmington, Vt. In 2020, over half of these locations reported more removals than arrests. 

The San Antonio field office reported the most removals in 2020 with almost 40,000 while Baltimore had the least, excluding the NCATC, with just over 500. The top three field offices — San Antonio, Phoenix and El Paso, respectively — made up over 40% of all removals in 2020.

Despite steep partisan divides surrounding the issue of immigration, both former Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump promised to focus on illegal immigrants with criminal charges.

Some controversy exists about whether each president held true to this promise. Data obtained via the Freedom of Information Act and compiled by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse organization at Syracuse University shows an overall decline in the number of immigrants with no conviction as to who were removed during the Obama years starting in 2009. This indicates the majority of removals did have at least one conviction.

In 2020, 64% of immigrants removed by ICE had criminal charges or pending criminal charges, according to agency data. ICE reports also specify that 92% of interior removals — as opposed to apprehensions at the border — had criminal charges or pending charges.

January 2020 saw the highest number of arrests with over 12,000, while October 2020 saw the highest number of removals.

This graph shows the amount of arrests and removals for the ICE field offices that had the highest number of arrests in 2020. Graph by Stella Lorence/BU News Service

President Joe Biden has taken steps towards fulfilling some of his campaign promises around immigration. However, he remains limited in his ability to immediately address the flow of migrants at the U.S. – Mexico border.

Although he sent the U.S. Citizenship Act to Congress on his first day in office, the legislation has stalled. The House passed two immigration bills last week, which address the requirements for obtaining permanent resident status for farm workers and immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. However, this is also unlikely to pass through the Senate.

Instead, Biden has focused on undoing Trump-era restrictions created during the pandemic that stifled immigration. Among these actions are lifting a freeze on green cards and ordering the Department of Homeland Security to protect the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects immigrants brought to the U.S. as children from deportation.

Most recently, Biden chose Vice President Kamala Harris to lead efforts to address the flow of migrants at the southern border.

“While we are clear that people should not come to the border now, we also understand that we will enforce the law,” Harris said in the State Dining Room on Wednesday. “We also must address the root causes that cause people to make the trek, as the President has described, to come here.”

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