MIAMI (NewsNation) — As migrant encounters along the southern border surge to record highs, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents elsewhere in the country have focused their efforts on two specific groups: people who crossed over repeatedly after being deported and undocumented immigrants with criminal histories.
“We can’t go after every individual in the country,” one ICE agent told NewsNation. “We have to prioritize. We have to make sure the cases we go after fall into the priorities, and more importantly, fall into our limited resources.”
Last week, NewsNation joined ICE agents in Miami for an exclusive ride-along to see how the agency conducted operations on a day-to-day basis. Repeat offenders — people who were previously deported but later re-entered illegally — are at the top of ICE’s priority list.
Unlike U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which enforces laws at or near the border, ICE enforces immigration laws in communities across the United States.
On the day of the ride-along, ICE agents were searching for a Jamaican migrant with a history of domestic battery who they said had illegally entered the country multiple times.
After driving around the Miami area for a while, agents spotted the man walking on the sidewalk near an apartment building. After confirming he was who they were looking for, agents searched him, put him in handcuffs and took him away.
Repeated offenders are taken to facilities such as Krome Detention Center on the outskirts of Miami to be processed. Once there, agents took the man’s fingerprints and searched his bag. He was later questioned.
Regardless of whether the U.S. Attorney decides to press charges, the man will soon end up on a flight back to Jamaica.
Despite the day’s successful mission, immigration arrests by ICE agents have dropped significantly since President Joe Biden took office early last year and reprioritized the agency’s goals.
ICE officers arrested almost 28% fewer noncitizens in fiscal year 2021 (which ends Sept. 30) than the previous year and almost half of those arrested in fiscal year 2019.
The decline in arrests marks a notable shift in policy from former President Donald Trump’s administration. Biden has vowed to take a more focused approach, prioritizing the removal of undocumented immigrants with criminal histories rather than pursuing every person who has entered the country illegally.
Last fiscal year, ICE arrested 12,025 individuals convicted of an aggravated felony, nearly double the 6,815 similar arrests made the year prior, according to the agency’s annual report.
The report also pointed out that the agency removed 495 noncitizen sex offenders last fiscal year, compared to 194 the year before.
Agents say the changing priorities have pulled them in nearly opposite directions assignment-wise. Under Trump, agents were told to deport almost anyone in the country illegally. Now, they are mainly focused on dangerous migrants.