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New ICE numbers show just how much the border crisis has hurt interior immigration enforcement

Arah Silbiger/Bloomberg | Getty Images

The crisis at the America’s southern border has had a substantial impact on Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) law enforcement operations in the interior United States over the past year, new numbers from the agency show.

According to a report put out by the agency on Wednesday, ICE’s redeployment of its resources to assist with Customs and Border Patrol operations has resulted in fewer ICE arrests of illegal aliens present inside the United States. The report notes that “overall administrative arrests decreased by 10 percent over the last fiscal year, while administrative arrests of convicted criminals decreased by 12 percent, and at-large arrests decreased by 12 percent.” That, the report shows, is 15,482 fewer overall arrests than in FY 2018.

It adds that “this was significantly impacted by the reallocation of resources in response to the crisis at the border.” Those redeployed resources consisted of roughly 350 ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) officers who were placed on border operations.

“Thus, while ERO continues to conduct enforcement in the interior of the United States,” ICE explains, “in light of its limited resources and the sheer volume of aliens attempting to enter the country, the agency has had to balance its support for border security with its interior public safety mission.”

And while arrests have gone down, the report states, the agency focuses its efforts on arresting aliens who pose the greatest risk to Americans’ public safety, which is why 86 percent of the agency’s arrests in FY 2019 were of aliens with either criminal convictions or charges.

Furthermore, as the agency has tried to balance increased demands at the border with limited resources, it also faces a growing number of immigration cases to manage.

The number of people currently in ICE detention for immigration proceedings — just over 50,000 — represents just a small fraction of the overall removal removal caseload that the agency is currently tasked with. The agency’s non-detained docket — which “includes aliens in all stages of the immigration process across the country” — currently has over 3.2 million cases. That total has increased from 2.4 million at the end of fiscal year 2017 and 2.6 million cases in FY 2018.

The report notes that both the detained and non-detained dockets grew “significantly” over the past fiscal year, “which was overwhelmingly due to the historic levels of CBP apprehensions at the Southwest Border.” It also points out that the non-detained docket increase is largely driven by the “record numbers” of family units and unaccompanied migrant children who have arrived during the border crisis.

In a Wednesday afternoon statement, acting ICE director Matthew Albence also said that ICE’s enforcement problems are compounded by the prevalence of sanctuary jurisdictions that refuse to cooperate with the feds on immigration enforcement.

“There is no doubt,” Albence said, “that the border crisis, coupled with the unwillingness of some local jurisdictions that choose to put politics over public safety has made it more difficult for ICE to carry out its Congressionally mandated interior enforcement mission.”