Posted on February 25, 2015

A Review of DHS Policies on Apprehension of Non-Citizens

Jessica Vaughan, Center for Immigration Studies, February 25, 2015

[Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt of testimony by Jessica Vaughan before the US House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.]

{snip} There can be no doubt that immigration enforcement is in a state of collapse. Border apprehensions, which are considered an indicator of illegal crossing attempts, are rising and many of the illegal crossers are being released into the country instead of repatriated. Hundreds of thousands of temporary visitors are overstaying their visas each year. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) statistics show clearly that over the last several years the number of deportations has plummeted and the number of illegal aliens allowed to stay and work in the United States has increased. The vast majority of illegal aliens residing in the interior face no threat of deportation, regardless of when or how they arrived, or if they have been deported before. Many deportable aliens who are encountered and apprehended by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers are released soon after, even if they have come to ICE’s attention after being arrested by local authorities.

This state of affairs can be traced directly to policy changes put in place by the Obama administration. While administration officials claims that these policies are “smarter and more effective” and allow the agencies to better focus on aliens who represent a threat to the public, in reality the intent, and certainly the result, has been the dismantlement of effective enforcement. It is no exaggeration to say that DHS is running a massive catch and release program.

These downward trends are due to two types of policy changes: first, a so-called “prioritization” scheme that shields from enforcement all but the most egregious criminals and immigration violators, and second, the abandonment of important tools that enable ICE officers, agents, and attorneys to do their jobs in an efficient and cost-effective manner. Among the tools that have been abandoned by the agencies: 1) detainers, which enable ICE officers to take custody of aliens who have been arrested by local law enforcement agencies; 2) accelerated forms of due process that avoid the need for long, drawn-out proceedings in the clogged immigration courts; and 3) partnerships with local law enforcement agencies to identify and remove criminal aliens in jurisdictions where ICE cannot cover its workload.

The drop in enforcement activity has become particularly acute since President Obama’s controversial executive actions were announced on November 20, 2014. These included two new policy memoranda spelling out new restrictions on immigration enforcement, with the effect that only narrow classes of illegal aliens–primarily those convicted of the most serious crimes and new arrivals who lack family or community ties in the United States–would be subject to arrest, questioning, detention, or immigration charges and that any immigration infractions in prior years, such as apprehensions, deportations, or skipping a court date, would be ignored.

These policies impose enormous costs on American communities–not just the distorted labor markets and higher tax bills for social welfare benefits that result from uncontrolled illegal immigration, but more specifically, a real and present threat to public safety from criminal aliens that ICE officers are told to release instead of detain and remove. ICE’s mandated over-focus on processing only the “worst of the worst” criminal aliens means that too many of “the worst” deportable criminal aliens are still at large in our communities. One of the most urgent tasks now before Congress is to restore integrity to our immigration laws by ending this massive catch and release scheme that wastes government resources and endangers the public.


Interior Enforcement Trends. The number of ICE deportations from the interior has dropped 58 percent since the peak in 2009, from 236,000 to 102,000 in 2014.



Criminal Deportations. While Obama administration officials claim that their policy changes have improved public safety by allowing ICE to focus its limited resources on the removal of criminal aliens, in fact the number of criminal aliens deported from the interior has declined by 43 percent since 2012, from 153,000 to 87,000. This has occurred despite increases in the number of criminal aliens identified by ICE, largely due to the nationwide implementation of the Secure Communities program, which screens the fingerprints of aliens arrested by local law enforcement agencies. (This hugely successful program, which was tremendously popular with local law enforcement agencies, was dismantled by the president’s November 20 executive actions.)