Camilo Montoya-Galvez, CBS News, December 23, 2020
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in 2020 arrested and deported fewer immigrants than in any year during President Trump’s tenure, and the number of deportations hit a 15-year low, largely as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, according to agency data released Wednesday.
In fiscal year 2020, ICE said it carried out more than 185,000 deportations, significantly fewer than the 226,000 immigrants deported in 2017, the previous low for the Trump administration. The last time ICE deportations were lower was in 2005, when 180,000 deportations were carried out, according to figures provided by the agency.
ICE also conducted 103,000 immigration arrests this past fiscal year, including nearly 24,000 during “at large” operations, which take place in communities, as opposed to transfers from local law enforcement. In fiscal year 2019, the agency arrested 143,000 immigrants, including 35,000 during at-large sweeps.
The numbers published on Wednesday show that more than 935,000 immigrants were deported during the four fiscal years of the Trump administration, which lifted Obama-era limits on who ICE could arrest and deport. During the first four years of President Obama’s tenure, ICE reported more than 1.5 million deportations — including 409,000 in 2012, a record high.
The number of immigrants currently being held at the agency’s network of for-profit detention facilities and county jails — which form the largest immigration detention system in the world — has also plummeted during the pandemic, decreasing from more than 37,000 in mid-March to 16,000 as of earlier this month.
The low number of detainees, ICE said, is directly linked to an emergency policy instituted in March that U.S. border officials have been using to rapidly expel most migrants and asylum-seekers to Mexico or their home countries.
ICE said arrests and deportations dropped sharply in 2020 because of air travel restrictions and coronavirus mitigation policies. The agency also limited arrests in the spring, when it announced it would focus on apprehending immigrants with criminal convictions who pose “public safety risks” during the pandemic.
“We did scale down enforcement. We didn’t stop it. We just prioritized those with a criminal element and those subject to mandatory detention that were potentially at large,” Henry Lucero, a top ICE official in charge of arrests, detention and deportations, said during a call Wednesday.