August 11, 2022

Deportations of illegal immigrants by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) plunged to their lowest level in nearly three decades last year amid the ongoing migration crisis at the US-Mexico border, the agency’s annual report revealed Friday.

Over the 12 months ending Sept. 30, 2021, ICE said it had removed 59,011 “noncitizens” from the US, down more than threefold from the 185,884 “aliens” deported in fiscal year 2020 –and the lowest number since fiscal year 1995, according to the Department of Homeland Security’s own records.

In addition, the ICE report revealed the number of so-called “administrative arrests,” which take place in the US interior, dropped 28.5 percent in fiscal year 2021 from the same 12-month period in 2020.

According to the report, among the deportees were 34 “known or suspected terrorists” (compared to 31 in FY 2020) and 2,178 “known or suspected gang members” (compared to 4,276 in FY 2020).

As low as the numbers are, they don’t measure the effect of a key policy change put forward by the Biden administration last year.

On Sept. 30, the day the period covered by the report ended, DHS ordered its officers to prioritize illegal immigrants for deportation who “pose a threat to national security, public safety, and border security” — and claimed that the government does not have the resources to apprehend every person who has entered the US unlawfully.

Haitian migrants cross the Rio Grande river September 23, 2021.
PEDRO PARDO/Getty Images

In a seven-page memo, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said that ‘[t]he fact an individual is a removable noncitizen … should not alone be the basis of an enforcement action against them” and vowed to “use our discretion and focus our enforcement resources in a more targeted way.”

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The Washington Post reported Friday that since issuing the memo, Mayorkas has met with ICE personnel to emphasize that message to them.

“As the annual report’s data reflects, ICE’s officers and special agents focused on cases that delivered the greatest law enforcement impact in communities across the country while upholding our values as a nation,” ICE acting director Tae Johnson said in a statement accompanying the report.

Migrants arrive to El Ceibo, Guatemala, on August 19, 2021, after being deported from the US and Mexico.
Migrants arrive in El Ceibo, Guatemala, on August 19, 2021, after being deported from the US and Mexico.

As an example, the report cited a figure of 12,205 deported people who had “aggravated felony convictions” and claimed it was nearly double the 6,815 apprehended in fiscal year 2020. However, neither the term “aggravated felony convictions” nor the 6,815 figure appear in the fiscal year 2020 report.

Meanwhile, Buzzfeed News reported Thursday that the Biden administration plans to wind down the so-called Title 42 health policy allowing for quicker expulsions of illegal border crossers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The same report added that DHS is preparing to inform the Mexican government that the policy could end as soon as next month, creating a new surge of migration that would strain resources on both sides of the border.