Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrests in the last year jumped to their highest levels since 2014, with increases in those picked up who had either no criminal history or whose criminal backgrounds are unresolved, according to data released by the agency Friday.
The agency has come under fire by advocates who believe its approach toward immigration enforcement has produced fear in the lives of people who are merely trying to get by. President Donald Trump’s executive orders have wiped away previous administrations’ practice of prioritizing those with serious criminal histories for deportation, in favor of an approach that makes nearly all undocumented immigrants a priority.
Still, ICE maintains that it focuses on those with criminal histories in its work. To that end, of the 158,581 arrested by the agency this past fiscal year, 105,140 were convicted criminals, a decrease of nearly 600 from the previous fiscal year. The majority of that group had convictions for DUIs, traffic offenses, drug offenses, or immigration offenses.
But ICE made big jumps in arrests of those without a criminal background — from 15,478 to 20,464 — and those with “pending” criminal cases, which could include individuals who have been arrested and charged, charged, or arrested and not charged, from 22,256 to 32,977. ICE also deported more individuals during fiscal year 2018 than the previous fiscal year, including individuals who were arrested by the agency, from around 226,000 to more than 256,000.
“We continued to use our limited resources as effectively and efficiently as possible to enforce the nation’s immigration laws,” said Ronald Vitiello, acting director of ICE, in a call with reporters Friday.
Vitiello called on Congress, which has often criticized the agency for the resources it uses to detain immigrants, to provide more funding for ICE detention facilities, claiming that the agency would have to make “difficult choices” if the funding levels were not met.
Congress has said in the past that the agency has spent at too high of a level.
“ICE continues to spend at an unsustainable rate,” read a Senate Appropriations Committee report from June 2018. “In light of the Committee’s persistent and growing concerns about ICE’s lack of fiscal discipline, whether real or manufactured, and its inability to manage detention resources within the appropriations made by law without the threat of anti-deficiency, the Committee strongly discourages transfer or reprogramming requests to cover ICE’s excesses.”