Under the Trump administration, immigration enforcement has become increasingly unfocused. Rather than prioritizing the apprehension and removal of immigrants who have committed serious crimes, enforcement personnel are now scooping up anyone who is deportable for any reason. This lack of prioritization has translated into a surge in immigration-related arrests across the board.

The jump in arrests is apparent in new data provided by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to the Washington Post. According to the ICE data, 21,362 immigrants were arrested from January through mid-March, compared to 16,104 during the same period last year. While most had some type of criminal conviction (including minor, non-violent offenses) the number with no criminal records more than doubled to 5,441. The number of non-criminal arrestees has doubled or tripled since last year at field offices in New York, Boston, and elsewhere. The ICE office in Atlanta arrested the greatest number of immigrants with clean records: nearly 700, up from 137 the previous year. Philadelphia had the biggest percentage increase, with 356—more than six times greater than the year before.

In addition to being inhumane, spending limited law-enforcement resources on tracking down and detaining immigrants without criminal records is irrational. The top priority should be finding individuals who pose a threat to public safety or national security. Unauthorized border-crossers who simply work and raise families are not a threat and therefore should be nowhere near the top of the list. In fact, they shouldn’t even be on the list. Giving them a chance to earn legal status, thereby maximizing their contributions to the U.S. economy and facilitating their integration into U.S. society, is far more practical and compassionate than hunting them down as if they were dangerous criminals.

Moreover, the task of finding dangerous criminals (native-born and foreign-born alike) is made more difficult when immigrant communities feel besieged by federal immigration-enforcement authorities. Immigrants who are undocumented, or have family members who are undocumented, tend to be wary of the police for fear that interacting with any law-enforcement officer will draw the attention of ICE. Fewer crimes (including instances of sexual assault) are reported in communities where people are concerned about interacting with law enforcement due to the potential immigration consequences.

Without a rational and humane set of priorities to guide it, the Trump administration appears to give no consideration to how or why different immigrants come to this country, what kind of life they have lived since arriving, or how they have become connected to this country through family, community, and work. That’s not a “tough” enforcement policy; it’s just a poorly reasoned policy.

Photo by Victor.