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December 11, 2019
The United States incarcerates a lot of immigrants each year while they await removal proceedings. You will be told that the emphasis is on criminals. This a lie.
The evidence, remember that word, is clear, at least as presented in yet another report that demonstrates our entire immigration policy enforcement concept is basically a lie. The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University has produced two recent reports on criminal removal and immigrant detention.
The first report showed that the number of people in detention with no criminal conviction has increased significantly under the Trump administration:
In March 2015, 61 percent of detainees had criminal convictions and 39 percent had no criminal conviction. But by April 2019, the proportion flipped completely: only 36 percent of detainees had criminal convictions while detainees without criminal convictions reached 64 percent. This is all the more significant as the total number of detainees grew substantially. ICE's increased focus on detainees with no criminal conviction is driving the expansion in the total number of detainees across the United States.
In preparing this first report the folks at TRAC noticed that the total number of people in ICE detention with a criminal conviction had remained fairly steady - even as it fell as a proportion of the total. So, their second report, just released, looks in more detail at just those with a criminal conviction. Here they found that among immigrants with criminal convictions held in detention, the portion of those convicted of serious crimes had also fallen.
While the total number of detainees with a criminal record has been fairly constant, TRAC found that the composition has been shifting. The number of individuals convicted of serious felonies fell from between 7,500 and 8,000 in 2017 to just above 6,000 in April of this year. Those convicted of serious felonies have been replaced by an increasing number of detainees who have committed at most misdemeanors - what ICE labels as Level 3 offenses - such as unlawful entry or traffic-related violations.
...ICE's data reveal that the fraction of detainees that ICE classifies as least serious, or Level 3 offenders, has climbed steadily from just over 6,000 (or 39 percent of the total detainees with criminal convictions in 2015) to nearly 9,500 (or 54 percent) in 2019. At the same time, detainees classified as serious Level 1 offenders declined from nearly 7,500 (or 47 percent) under the Obama administration to around 6,000 (or 34 percent) during the Trump administration.
An important clarification!!! People are never held in immigrant detention for criminal offenses. Detention is for violating (or possibly violating) administrative rules governing immigration - and is thus civil, not criminal detention. People who are in this country as permanent legal residents, or unauthorized might face deportation if they are convicted of certain crimes - the list of crimes was greatly expanded by Clinton era reforms. However, before they end up in immigrant detention, they will have already served their sentence for any criminal violation. One of the most controversial parts of immigrant detention is that people are incarcerated in prison-like conditions when they are not serving time for any kind of criminal penalty!
What this data does show is that the Trump administration is not focused on removing people from this country who have been convicted of crimes. (And you should note that the most common convictions leading to removal proceedings are driving offenses!!!).
Indeed, as much as Trump talks about MS13, of the 500,000 records reviewed, only 84 people were placed in removal proceedings by ICE and detained following a conviction for gang related activity.
Trump’s actual deemphasis on criminal removals translates into far fewer deportations of people convicted of criminal offenses, and a significant fall in the number of people referred to immigration courts following completion of sentences for criminal convictions. We reported on this in July - and the fall off is dramatic:
In reality Trump’s administration has deemphasized criminal activity as the basis for removal proceedings in immigrant courts more than any administration. In the current fiscal year, DHS has only sought removal based on a criminal act in 2.8 percent of all immigration court filings. That is an extraordinary drop from the 25 percent of cases in 1999, or even the 16 percent of cases in 2009. In some courts, the numbers hover around 0.1 percent – or one in a thousand cases. In Houston, the second busiest immigration court in the country, the number of criminal removal cases was the lowest, five out of 15,063 cases heard, or 0.033 percent.
The decline in the rate is not simply a function of more arrests – the actual number of filings is also way down:
Despite the rising number of ICE interior arrests and individuals who are detained, fewer and fewer immigrants in the Immigration Court’s growing workload are being cited as deportable based upon criminal activity. During the first nine months of FY 2019 only 7,458 cases have been lodged by DHS citing criminal activity as a basis for seeking the removal order. If this same pace continues for the remaining three months of the year, the total is still unlikely to reach 10,000. A decade or more ago immigrants with criminal records or alleged criminal activity involved 30,000 to 40,000 court filings each year.
I want to stress that, in my view, almost none of the people who end up in removal proceedings for criminal convictions belong there! We wrote about the abuse of this process a few weeks ago. Our “criminal justice” system is wholly unjust, from a race and class perspective. Taking cues on who to deport from this system is itself a travesty of justice. The point is simply that the Trump administration is constantly lying about what their priorities are, and they constantly conflate criminal bases for removal with legal paths for migration - in order to cut out those authorized paths.
Remember that one of the largest group being held in detention right now are asylum seekers who have already established a fear of torture or persecution if returned to their home country. This group constitutes over 25% of the current number of people in detention (over 11,000 of the current 44,000 in ICE detention - as of November 30). This is a violation of ICE’s own directives, which mandate release on parole unless there is an established flight risk or danger to communities for people who have established a credible fear of torture or persecution.
Seeking asylum is legal - or used to be. Those seeking asylum, not MS13 leaders, are the real targets of Trump’s war on immigration. Once one understands that, the rest becomes clear. Trump wants to cut all immigration from non-European countries (and those folks mostly do no want to come here). That is what he is actually doing with his executive orders.