Maria Sacchetti reports in the Washington Post:
“Federal immigration agents are arresting more than 400 immigrants a day, a sharp leap from last year that reflects one of President Trump’s most far-reaching campaign promises.
In Trump’s first 100 days in office, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested 41,318 immigrants, up 37.6 percent over the same period last year, the agency said Wednesday. Almost 3 out of 4 of those arrested have criminal records, including gang members and fugitives wanted for murder. But the biggest increase by far is among immigrants with no criminal records.
“This administration is fully implementing its mass-deportation agenda,” said Gregory Chen, government relations director for the American Immigration Lawyers Association. “They’re going after people who have lived here for a long time.”
. . . .
Acting ICE director Thomas Homan said the statistics released Wednesday show that agents still prioritize lawbreakers: 30,473 criminals were arrested from Jan. 22 to April 29, an 18 percent increase from the same period in 2016.
Meanwhile, arrests of immigrants with no criminal records more than doubled to nearly 11,000, the fastest-growing category by far.
“Will the number of noncriminal arrests and removals increase this year? Absolutely,” Homan said. “That’s enforcing the laws that are on the books.”
What is less clear is what is happening to the immigrants who are being taken into custody.
Overall, deportations have fallen about 12 percent this year, to about 56,315 people, which Homan attributed to a severe backlog in federal immigration courts. He also said it can take longer to deport criminals than those without criminal records, because those in the former category may have additional court proceedings. The Trump administration has called for additional immigration judges and detention space to speed deportations.
Homan did not say how many of the 41,318 people whose arrests were announced Wednesday have been deported, remain in custody or have been released.
Unlike criminal arrests, records of immigration arrests — which are considered civil violations — are not publicly accessible.
The secrecy allows immigration officials to pick and choose which examples of their work to highlight. On Wednesday, they said the immigrants arrested since Trump’s executive order include Estivan Rafael Marques Velasquez, an alleged MS-13 gang member from El Salvador captured in New York in February; Juan Antonio Melchor Molina, a fugitive wanted for a 2008 murder in Mexico who was arrested last month in Dallas; and William Magana-Contreras, another reputed MS-13 member arrested in Houston last month. Magana-Contreras is wanted for aggravated homicide in El Salvador, officials said.
Some advocates questioned whether ICE is truly prioritizing the most serious criminals.
Parastoo Zahedi, an immigration lawyer in Virginia, said ICE is actively trying to deport one of her clients to Italy because of a conviction for possession of a small amount of marijuana. He has lived in the United States nearly all his life.
“It’s not criminal aliens,” Zahedi said. “It’s anyone that they can catch.”
Ava Benach, a D.C. immigration lawyer, said ICE agents are “empowered, emboldened and . . . eager to enforce the law aggressively.”
Advocates also questioned the wisdom of arresting thousands more immigrants — especially those who pose no known public safety threat — when immigration courts are severely backlogged. But Homan said that is the agency’s job.
. . . .
Let’s put this in plain language. We have a law that doesn’t work, and a system that is broken. There are an estimated 11 million undocumented individuals residing in the U.S. Most of them work, pay taxes (in some form), and contribute to the economy. Many have immediate relatives who are US citizens or otherwise in the country legally.
Because everyone can’t possibly be removed, the “unfocused” enforcement advocated by Homan on behalf of the Trump Administration turns out to be highly if not completely arbitrary. In most cases of those without serious criminal records, removal would be a net loss to our country.
Moreover, the Administration has reassigned U.S. Immigration Judges away from their regular dockets to work on detained cases, which, understandably, are the highest priority. By mindlessly “jacking up” the detained docket, the Administration guarantees that backlogs will continue to build on the “non-detained” dockets.
The Immigration Courts now have a backlog approaching 600,000, and it continues to grow by leaps and bounds even though there are more Immigration Judges on duty now than in past years and productivity has remained constant over the past few years (although Immigration Judges still complete multiples of what other similarly situated Federal Judges do, and far more cases than the
“ideal”). This is because of the “Aimless Docket Reshuffling” — ADR — foisted on the Immigration Courts by the past two Administrations.
While, at the very end of the Obama Administration ICE was making some progress toward smarter, more focused use of enforcement resources, which took into account the finite limits of Immigration Court dockets, the Trump Administration has returned to a policy of random irrational enforcement. They have also limited the discretion of individual ICE Assistant Chief Counsel to exercise discretion to get what should be “low priority” cases off the docket — in other words, to exercise “prosecutorial discretion” — “PD” — as other prosecutors do.