WASHINGTON – Amid President Donald Trump’s push for tighter immigration policies, the United States deported more than 256,000 illegal immigrants in 2018 – the highest number since the Obama administration, new data shows.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Deputy Director Ronald Vitello announced Friday that in the past fiscal year, which ended in September, ICE has detained “a record number” of illegal immigrants and that the number of those deported has risen about 13 percent since 2017. The data, which comes from a new agency report, shows that 145,262 of those who were deported were convicted criminals and that 22,796 had criminal charges pending against them.
In addition, some 5,872 were reported as known or suspected gang members and 42 were believed to be terrorists, according to the report.
The number of families and unaccompanied children who were deported also increased. ICE said that 2,711 who were traveling in families and 5,571 unaccompanied children were removed from U.S. soil.
“We’ve continued to achieve gains in all meaningful enforcement measurements,” Vitello said, despite significant underfunding. The strain on resources is a consequence of current border crisis, he said.
“With the continued surge and without congressional action to fund the agency at adequate levels, ICE may be forced to make difficult choices that could hamper our ability to fulfill our public safety or national security mission,” he added, noting that the agency does not want to release detainees due to budgetary constraints because it would create a public safety risk.
Since taking office, Trump has maintained a harsh stance on illegal immigration and in favor of border security. On Thursday he vowed to do “whatever it takes to get border security,” in large part by building a wall. The president’s promise to assuage the ongoing “crisis” at the U.S.-Mexico border has also included a series of executive orders in recent months, including calling for separation and detention of families entering at the border and limiting those eligible to apply for asylum.
Mary Bauer, deputy legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, said it is “appalling and morally unconscionable that this is the place where we find ourselves” – deporting people “without a sense of priorities.”
“It used to be that there was a sense that they were looking for people who had committed serious crimes,” she said in a phone interview with The Washington Post.
In fact, U.S. deportation numbers were higher during the Obama administration, reaching 409,849 in 2012, according to ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations reports. Data shows that in 2015 and 2016, however, the number of those deported dropped to 235,413 and 240,255, respectively.
Under the Trump administration, Bauer said that there has been a sense that U.S. immigration officials are “looking for everyone,” which has “created a society of fear and terror” in immigrant communities.
“We know the kinds of criminal violations that send people into the deportation machine,” she said. “People are there in large number because of minor traffic violations.”
According to the 2018 report, ICE also arrested more than 158,000 immigrants, most of whom were convicted criminals. ICE data shows that the largest number of criminal convictions – more than 54,000 – were DUIs, followed by “dangerous drugs,” other traffic offenses and immigration violations.