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.thenation.com/article/why-numbers-alone-obscure-the-real-deportation-story/