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Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on Friday released its annual report for FY 2021 – showing that arrests and deportations had sharply decreased compared to prior years, coinciding with the Biden administration’s implementation of narrowed priorities for the enforcement agency.
The report outlines how ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) arrested 74,082 noncitizens in FY 2021, and deported 59,011.
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That is down dramatically from prior years. In FY 2020, there were 103,603 arrests and 185,884 removals. In FY 2019 the agency arrested 143,099 illegal immigrants and deported 267,258.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly affected ICE enforcement in both FY 2021 and FY 2020, one major factor has been the Biden administration’s implementation of new regulations for ICE officers, beginning in February, that dramatically restricted the scope of enforcement.
ICE has been told to prioritize three categories of illegal immigrants: recent border crossers, aggravated felons and national security threats. The administration has claimed it allows agents to focus limited resources on top priority threats. In the following months, ICE was restricted from carrying out worksite enforcement operations and operations near certain areas, including courthouses.
In September, a memo instructed agents that someone’s illegal status should not alone be the basis for arrest and deportation.
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“We have fundamentally changed immigration enforcement in the interior,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas declared in an interview with CBS News in January. “For the first time ever, our policy explicitly states that a non-citizen’s illegal presence in the United States will not, by itself, be a basis for the initiation of an enforcement action.
The report says that of the 74,082 arrests between October 2020 and October 2021, only 47,755 took place after Feb. 18 when the new priorities were implemented. Of removals, just 28,677 of the 59,011 deportations took place after Feb. 18. Of the arrests, 32% were immigrants who had been encountered by Border Patrol and issued Notices to Report to ICE.
“In Fiscal Year 2021, ICE officers and special agents effectively carried out their national security, public safety and border security mission despite having to work through the devastating COVID-19 pandemic,” acting ICE director Tae Johnson said in a statement. “As the annual report’s data reflects, ICE’s officers and special agents focused on cases that delivered the greatest law enforcement impact in communities across the country while upholding our values as a nation.”
The ICE report touts what it sees as the successes of this policy, despite the overall drop in arrests and removals. It said that ERO arrested 12,025 illegal immigrants with aggravated felony convictions, nearly double the 6,815 arrested in FY 2020. Prior reports do not use the term “aggravated felon” and senior ICE officials who spoke to reporters ahead of the report’s release says the definition of the term generally refers to more serious felons, but also differs in different jurisdictions.
“It’s a little different to sort of quantify aggravated felonies because the definition does change based on litigation in circuit court to circuit court but a general rule of thumb is that an aggravated felon is typically a higher level felony conviction – certainly something usually that has a sentence of more than a year and oftentimes involves violence but not always, “the official said.
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Of those removed, 2,718 were known or suspected gang members (down from 4,276 in FY 2020 and 5,497 in FY 2019) and 34 were known or suspected terrorists – up from 31 in FY 2020 but down from 58 in FY 2019. The report also highlights an operation that arrests 495 sex offenders from 54 countries, compared to 194 in the same 90-day period.
Meanwhile, the report says that offenses associated with those arrested in FY 2021 included 1,506 homicide-related offenses (down from 1,837 in FY20 and 1,923 in FY19), 3,415 sexual assaults (down from 4,385 in FY20 and 5,061 in FY19), 19,549 assaults ( down from 37,247 in FY20 and 45,804 in FY 19), 2,717 robberies (down from 3,816 in FY20 and 4,736 in FY 19 and 1,063 kidnappings (down from 1,637 in FY 20 and 1,833 in FY 19.)