Last fiscal year (ended Sept. 30), ICE removed 59,011 “noncitizens” from the United States, down from 185,844 that were deported during fiscal year 2020. The year before that, 267,258 immigrants were deported.
In part, the decline in deportations could be the result of enforcement changes triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, which allow border agents to remove illegal immigrants under the Title 42 public health code — those removals are not counted in the deportation numbers.
Nevertheless, the nearly 70% decrease in deportations from the previous year comes as the number of border encounters remains high. Border agents reported 1,734,686 migrant encounters along the southern border in fiscal year 2021, a 280% increase from the year before.
Those with a firsthand view of the migrant crisis say it’s important to remember the problems close to home, even as war rages in Eastern Europe.
“It’s devastating, it’s tragic what’s going on in Ukraine but we can’t lose sight of what’s taking place along our southern border,” said Lt. Chris Olivarez with the Texas Department of Public Safety, a Friday guest of “On Balance with Leland Vittert.”
Olivarez emphasized that border agents want to do their jobs but do not feel supported by the federal government.
According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data, through the first four months of fiscal year 2022, border agents have reported 672,838 migrant encounters along the southern border, which puts the country on pace to surpass 2,000,000 by the end of the year.
The influx of migrants has overwhelmed the resources at the border, Olivarez says.
“There’s mass releases right now that are being conducted because of the fact that there’s just so much overcrowding in these facilities,” said Olivarez.
Olivarez said that illegal immigrants from more than 150 countries have attempted to cross the border and expressed particular concern for the increase in single adults whose backgrounds, he said, are largely unknown.
“It’s a national security threat to everyone, especially our country right now,” said Olivarez.
The number of noncitizen “administrative arrests” also declined last year. ICE officers arrested 74,082 noncitizens in fiscal year 2021, down almost 28% from the year prior when ICE arrested 103,603 illegal immigrants. Administrative arrests refer to immigration arrests in the U.S. interior, not at the border.
According to the report, more than 12,000 of those arrested were individuals with aggravated felony convictions, nearly double the number arrested with similar felony convictions the year before.
The decline in total deportations and arrests reflects the Biden administration’s change in immigration enforcement policy, which has shifted to focus on arresting noncitizens who have committed serious crimes.
ICE has also changed where it operates. Last year, the Biden administration directed the agency to limit enforcement actions at sensitive locations like schools and hospitals.
Meanwhile, the number of cases before the backlogged U.S. immigration court system has soared to 1.6 million — a process that can take years to determine whether someone is allowed to remain in the country legally or not.