Immigration arrests rise sharply as a Trump mandate is carried out

In Photo: Guadalupe García de Rayos (second from right) reunites with her children, Angel, 16, and Jacqueline, 14, who are US citizens, at a soup kitchen for the deported in Nogales, Mexico, on February 9. Immigration arrests rose 38 percent in the first three months of the Trump administration compared with the same period last year, according to figures released by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Immigration arrests shot up 38 percent in the first three months of the Trump administration compared with the same period last year, according to figures released on Wednesday, one of the first clear indications that the president’s hard-line policies are being carried out on a grand scale.

While President Donald J. Trump’s more attention-grabbing ideas have been blocked or stalled, like building a border wall and temporarily stopping travel from some Muslim-majority countries, the statistics released by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) suggested that the more street-level aspects of his immigration agenda have achieved significant results, and quickly.

From January 22 to April 29, ICE officers arrested 41,318 people, at a rate of more than 400 people per day, compared with 30,028 over roughly the same period in 2016, the data showed.

“These statistics reflect President Trump’s commitment to enforce our immigration laws fairly and across the board,” said Thomas Homan, the acting director of ICE, on a phone call with reporters.

Many of the arrests took place at immigrants’ homes, as teams of agents spread out in the early hours of the morning to catch people before they left for work, a common tactic designed to avoid a public scene.  But agents also have been moving more aggressively, taking into custody people who arrived for routine check-ins, and even apprehending people arriving at courthouses on nonimmigration matters.

The rapid increase in arrests was primarily the result of one of Trump’s first significant immigration moves, rescinding rules laid down by former President Barack Obama that prioritized the arrest of the most serious criminals and largely left other unauthorized immigrants alone.

More than half of the increase in arrests were of immigrants who had committed no crime other than being in the country without permission.

Obama’s policy was rooted in both humanitarian and budgetary reasons, but to Trump and his supporters, and many ICE agents, it represented a failure to enforce the law and a de facto amnesty for millions of people in the US illegally.

Trump’s supporters welcomed the news. “I feel that’s one step in the right direction, I definitely feel that way,” said J.D. Ma, a lawyer in Clarksville, Maryland. “The reality is that if you don’t do that, that’s going to encourage wave after wave and disrupt the order of the society.”

At the same time, the wider net has frustrated some local law-enforcement officials who have pointed to evidence that arrests, especially those at courthouses, were discouraging unauthorized immigrants from reporting crimes.

Since Trump was elected, reports by Latinos of sexual assaults and domestic violence have declined sharply.

“What it tells me is that the department is willing to put enforcement numbers ahead of any kind of strategy that would actually try to keep us all safer going forward,” said Omar Jadwat, the director of the Immigrants’ Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union.

Aware of the criticism, the federal authorities have frequently noted that a majority of those arrested—75 percent in Trump’s first three months—were still people with criminal records.

Those swept up have committed a broad range of offenses. Guadalupe García de Rayos, a mother in Arizona, had used a false Social Security number to work at a water park. Juan Antonio Melchor Molina, a fugitive from Mexico, is wanted on a murder charge.

Although agents are no longer limited in whom they can pick up, Homan said that more than 2,700 of those arrested had been convicted of serious crimes like assault, rape or murder.

“If you look at the numbers, the men and women of ICE are still prioritizing these arrests in a way that makes sense,” he said.

Trump’s policies also appear to have slowed the flow of people crossing the southern border illegally, which has reached its lowest number in years, as migrants are choosing to seek refuge in other countries or endure poor conditions at home.

Unless they have already been ordered deported by a judge, immigrants who are arrested can plead their case in immigration courts, which have been snarled by a backlog that exceeds half a million cases. Overall, Homan said that deportations were down 12 percent from the previous year, partly because of a steep decline in illegal border crossings.

The increase in arrests under Trump is less stark compared with 2011, when Obama’s immigration agency apprehended 351,029 people, or about 29,000 a month. But arrests and deportations decreased in the years that followed as the Obama administration narrowed its focus to serious criminals.

Other aspects of Trump’s immigration agenda have not produced such quick results. His border wall has yet to be funded by Congress and his travel bans have been blocked by courts.

Last month, a federal judge in San Francisco halted the Justice Department’s plans to financially punish so-called sanctuary cities that limit how much local police and jails may cooperate with ICE.

But at the current rate of arrests, ICE may surpass the highest annual numbers it reached under Obama in Trump’s very first year. New York Times News Service

Image Credits: Caitlin O’Hara/The New York Times