ICE on ice: Immigration arrests in FY21 were half what they were in previous years

Courtesy of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

In addition to signaling to millions of people around the world that the US southern border is now open to unaccompanied kids and families with young kids, the Biden administration has also cut down on arrests of illegal immigrants who’ve made it inside the country. Today, the Washington Post reports that ICE arrests in fiscal year 2021 were half what they were from 2017 to 2019.

Immigration arrests in the interior of the United States fell in fiscal 2021 to the lowest level in more than a decade — roughly half the annual totals recorded during the Trump administration, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement data obtained by The Washington Post.

Officers working for ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) made about 72,000 administrative arrests during the fiscal year that ended in September, down from 104,000 during the 2020 fiscal year and an average of 148,000 annually from 2017 through 2019.

The workload is so low for these ERO officers that one said the hardest part of his job was looking busy.

During the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, ERO’s 6,000 enforcement officers each averaged about 12 immigration arrests per year, or one per month…

Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors reducing immigration, accused ICE of a “collapse in interior enforcement,” even as the agency continues to receive billions of dollars for detention and deportations.

“This is a public safety problem that we don’t need to have,” she said, adding that one officer told her “the hardest part of my job now is pretending to look busy.”

Last month, DHS issued new guidelines which indicated that the fact someone is here illegally “should not alone be the basis” for their arrest or deportation. DHS is now focused only on illegal immigrants who have committed serious crimes. The Biden administration doesn’t seem to recognize that the de facto system we have now encourages more illegal immigration.

Here’s how the current system actually works. There are two ways to make it across the border, one is to run for it and try to avoid being caught. If you are caught you might be removed under Title 42 in which case you likely go back to Mexico and can try again in a week or a month. Alternatively, you might be deported back to your home country in which case crossing the border again is illegal reentry. Of course if you are successful on the second try and don’t get caught, you’ll probably never face any immigration enforcement and can live in the US for the rest of your life. That’s a pretty big incentive to try.

The other way to enter the country is to cross the border, turn yourself in to CBP and make a claim for asylum, which is legal. For a time, President Trump was sending most of these people back to Mexico to await processing of their asylum cases. Biden ended the “remain in Mexico” policy but is now being forced to restart it next month because of a court order. In any case, most of the migrants coming to the border are economic migrants who aren’t really eligible for asylum but working that through the courts takes time.

Many asylum seekers get released into the country and are told to await a court date which could take two years or more because of the current backlog of cases. When they eventually go to court, the overwhelming majority will have their asylum claim denied and will be told to leave the country. And then most will go back to wherever they have been living and never leave the country. Unless they commit a crime, they will likely never face removal, making the entire asylum system a farce.

So, whether you sneak across the border or claim asylum the end result is often the same. You wind up living somewhere in America and you are never forced to leave. The only mechanism for deporting any of these people who aren’t supposed to be here is ICE arrests and ICE has been told not to arrest anyone simply because they are here illegally.

Put it this way, about 1.7 million people were arrested crossing the border this year. Many were returned but those who weren’t (including the “got aways” who never got picked, those who claimed asylum and weren’t sent back to Mexico, children, families with children and all of those who arrived when CBP was so overwhelmed that they were releasing people without any processing at all)—the people who made it into the country number in the hundreds of thousands this fiscal year alone. Meanwhile, ICE made 72,000 arrests in the previous fiscal year focused solely on people who committed violent crimes. In short, the people who are gaming the system have good odds of getting away with it.

That’s really the bottom line. Most people who make it into the country stay and the people who are coming to the border right now know that. In fact, they know the system better than most Americans do. Our broken system is a tremendous incentive for more migrants to come here and that’s exactly what they’ll keep doing until we actually fix the system.