As U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has expanded immigration capacity across the country in recent years, the number of people held in its facilities with actual criminal records dropped, according to a new report from Syracuse University’s TRAC Center. Since October 2017, the number of individuals in ICE detention with serious criminal convictions dropped 25%, while the number of detained immigrants with minor traffic or immigration-related convictions rose by 8%.
As of late November, only 33% of immigrants in ICE detention had any criminal conviction at all.
For months, the majority of those in detention have been asylum seekers who arrive at the border and ask for protection. Just 41% of people currently in ICE custody were arrested inside the United States by ICE agents. U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents arrested the remaining 59% at the border and then transferred them to an ICE detention facility.
Almost 12,000 people in ICE detention—more than 25% of the total—have already been found to have a credible fear of persecution, having passed the first step in seeking asylum. The Obama administration’s standard practice was to release asylum seekers who had made it over this threshold on parole. After taking office, the Trump administration stopped granting parole to asylum seekers. Instead, people stay people locked up for the duration of their hearings at significant expense.
Since June 2018, more than half of all people in ICE detention with criminal records committed nonviolent misdemeanors or violations at most. Convictions for improper entry to the United States accounted for 22% of these offenses.
Since March 2015, the percent of ICE detainees convicted of the most serious “Level 1” offenses dropped from 47% to 34%. Individuals were most likely classified as Level 1 after a conviction for assault (17% of the total), burglary (7%), or drug trafficking (6%).
Importantly, many people with criminal records are long-time members of their community who may have options for remaining in the United States. Some of them have also maintained lawful status in the U.S. for many years.
Simply because a person has a criminal record doesn’t mean that they should be banished from the United States. Many immigrants end up in immigration court due to the criminalization of black and brown communities, which has an outsized effect on immigrants of color.
A 2016 study from the NYU Immigrants Rights Clinic and the Black Alliance for Just Immigration confirmed this bias. The study found that while black immigrants were 8.7% of the total foreign-born population, they made up 20.3% of immigrants facing deportation on criminal grounds of removability.
TRAC’s data provides an important counterbalance to the Trump administration’s repeated claims about immigrant criminality. President Trump assures his supporters that he’s deporting gang members “by the thousands.” But the truth is ICE is detaining fewer people with criminal records than before.
FILED UNDER: Immigration and Customs Enforcement