Why Numbers Alone Obscure The Real Deportation Story

The total number of deportations is down under Trump, but don’t confuse that with leniency.

By Julianne Hing

Detainees leave the cafe­te­ria at the Stewart Detention Facility, a Corrections Corporation of America (now CoreCivic) immi­gra­tion facil­i­ty in Lumpkin, Georgia. (AP /​Kate Brumback)

Depor­ta­tions are down. In the2017 fis­cal year, which end­ed in September, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deport­ed 226,119 peo­ple — 14,000 few­er than the pre­vi­ous year. Barack Obama broke records by deport­ing more than 3 mil­lion peo­ple dur­ing his eight years in office. But no one should con­fuse a drop in depor­ta­tions under Donald Trump with lenien­cy.

There are, broad­ly speak­ing, two kinds of depor­ta­tion: those peo­ple who are quick­ly kicked out of the coun­try for get­ting caught cross­ing the US-Mexican bor­der, and those who are already liv­ing in the United States and are round­ed up from with­in the “inte­ri­or.” One big rea­son for the decrease in depor­ta­tions is that few­er peo­ple are cross­ing into the coun­try from Mexico. That pool of easy stat-boost­ers had already been dry­ing up under Obama, and it con­tin­ues to decline — though in its end-of-year report, ICE claimed that the trend could reflect “an increased deter­rent effect” from the agency’s “stronger inte­ri­or enforce­ment efforts.”

If one looks only at what are called “inte­ri­or removals,” Trump has deport­ed more peo­ple than Obama did in his final two years. In fact, in his first eight months in office, Trump deport­ed 61,094 peo­ple from with­in the inte­ri­or, 37 per­cent more than Obama did in the same peri­od in 2016.

ICE arrests are also up under Trump. Between his inau­gu­ra­tion and September 30, ICE arrest­ed 42 per­cent more peo­ple for immi­gra­tion vio­la­tions than it did over the same peri­od in the pre­vi­ous year. Immigration-court back­logs are key to under­stand­ing why Trump’s depor­ta­tion num­bers aren’t even high­er: If a per­son has lived in the coun­try for more than two years and has not been pre­vi­ous­ly sub­ject to a depor­ta­tion order, they’re enti­tled to a hear­ing before an immi­gra­tion judge. Processing those cas­es takes time.

As it is, Trump has autho­rized his agents to do things that oth­er admin­is­tra­tions declined to do. Obama said that he was focused on remov­ing “felons, not fam­i­lies.” These days, any­one who’s deportable — from restau­rant-own­ing, decades-long res­i­dents to DACA-approved Dreamers — is a pri­or­i­ty. ICE is now will­ing to arrest peo­ple with no crim­i­nal record, peo­ple who are guilty only of immi­gra­tion vio­la­tions. Even ICE’s gang-enforce­ment oper­a­tions — designed, sup­pos­ed­ly, to cap­ture the most hard­ened crim­i­nals — have net­ted a dis­turb­ing num­ber of peo­ple with no crim­i­nal record. It’s an unleash­ing that, to immi­grants, feels like a kind of ter­ror­ism.

To make mat­ters worse, ICE agents stalk places that were once no-go areas for appre­hend­ing immi­grants: church­es, cour­t­hous­es, even school drop-off sites. In November, dozens of pub­lic defend­ers gath­ered for an impromp­tu protest out­side a Brooklyn cour­t­house just after ICE agents arrest­ed a man who had shown up at court. That arrest was one of approx­i­mate­ly 40 such inci­dents in 2017 in New York City alone — a 900 per­cent increasecom­pared with last year, accord­ing to the Immigrant Defense Project. Lawyers and judges have report­ed sim­i­lar activ­i­ty in Arizona, California, Connecticut, Colorado, New Jersey, Oregon, Texas, Washington, and the rest of New York State. Denver City Attorney Kristin Bronson said that she’s giv­en up on four domes­tic-vio­lence cas­es since Trump’s elec­tion, because the vic­tims were too afraid that ICE would be lurk­ing to appear in court.

The Trump admin­is­tra­tion has also pres­sured local police forces to do immi­gra­tion-enforce­ment work. In March, ICE began pub­lish­ing a list of juris­dic­tions that declined to hon­or its detain­er requests to hold immi­grants in cus­tody for the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment. The list, intend­ed to shame local­i­ties, has been sus­pend­ed, but the spir­it of it remains. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been engaged in legal bat­tles with mul­ti­ple munic­i­pal­i­ties, from San Francisco to Chicago, over the administration’s threats to defund so-called sanc­tu­ary cities. Read more here: https://​www​.then​ation​.com/​a​r​t​i​c​l​e​/​w​h​y​-​n​u​m​b​e​r​s​-​a​l​o​n​e​-​o​b​s​c​u​r​e​-​t​h​e​-​r​e​a​l​-​d​e​p​o​r​t​a​t​i​o​n​-​s​t​o​ry/