Trump officials report spike in detentions, sharp drop in border crossings

Trump officials report spike in detentions, sharp drop in border crossings
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The Trump administration said Tuesday that it has seen a spike in detentions by deportation officers at the southern border, while the number of illegal border crossings has fallen sharply.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said in its end-of-year immigration enforcement report that the number of people turned away or caught crossing the border illegally plummeted 23.7 percent from the previous year to 526,901 in fiscal year 2017.
Apprehensions dropped 25.3 percent, from 415,816 to 310,531. That came on the heels of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reporting their lowest-ever number of apprehensions in April, at 11,127.
Border apprehensions are commonly used as the benchmark for estimating illegal border crossing attempts.
Meanwhile, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers arrested 143,470 immigrants in the interior of the country — a 25 percent jump. But overall removals, commonly referred to as deportations, saw a 6 percent decline from 2016 to 226,119.
ICE acting Director Thomas Homan attributed the decline in removals to the drastic drop in border crossings and continued border enforcement, arguing it meant there were fewer people to deport this year.
"Overall removals were down because the border was better controlled that it has been in the last 45 years. That’s a good story," Homan said.
Homan said President Trump directed the DHS to "fully enforce immigration laws," a reflection of the president's campaign pledge to crack down on illegal immigration.
Homan praised Trump for removing restrictions on who immigration enforcement officials can prosecute for immigration violations.
"This president, like him or love him, is doing the right thing," said Homan, an Obama-era holdover at the DHS.
In keeping with Trump's immigration policy, Homan has led a surge in arrests of foreigners who have violated immigration laws, but not necessarily other immigration laws.
In fiscal year 2017, ICE arrested 143,470 people for civil violation of immigration laws, up 30 percent from last year.
In the Obama administration, immigration agents were instructed to pursue arrests of undocumented immigrants who had committed an additional criminal violation, but not those without other charges.
Homan praised Trump for removing that restriction through an executive order on Jan. 25, spurring the increase in administrative arrests.
"There’s no population off the table," said Homan. "If you’re in this country illegally, we’re looking for you and we’re going to apprehend you."
While the Obama administration argued its interior immigration enforcement focus was on undocumented immigrants, ICE arrested more criminal aliens in 2017 under Trump than it did in 2016 under Obama.
ICE arrested 105,736 criminal aliens in fiscal 2017, a 12 percent increase from 94,751 in 2016.
According to figures the DHS released Tuesday, ICE also issued 65 percent more detainers to local and state jails in 2017 than in 2016.
Detainers are requests for local authorities to hold a criminal or detainee until federal authorities pick them up.
Homan attributed that increase to a change made by Trump that allows ICE to issue detainers for foreigners who've been arrested or detained by local authorities, not necessarily convicted.
"Under the last administration they needed to have conviction to put a detainer on them," said Homan.
In 2017, local authorities — mostly from so-called sanctuary cities — declined 8,170 detainers, up from 3,623 declined in 2016.
Homan blasted sanctuary cities, which refuse to fully cooperate with the federal authorities on immigration enforcement, blaming them for releasing undocumented immigrants to the streets.
But according to ICE's figures, the proportion of individuals with declined detainers who were subsequently arrested dropped to 5.6 percent of all declined detainers in 2017 from 7.6 percent in 2016.
Still, ICE deported 13,744 criminal aliens in 2017, up 10 percent from 2016.
That means a larger proportion of deportations resulting from investigations have criminal, as opposed to administrative, motivations. 
That increase coincided with a 24 percent drop in criminal border removals, consistent with the overall drop in border apprehensions and illegal crossing attempts.
Still, CBP acting Deputy Commissioner Ronald Vitiello expressed concern that border crossing numbers, particularly of unaccompanied minors, rose toward the end of the year.
"We remain concerned," said Vitiello, adding that despite the decreasing illegal crossings, cases of assault against Border Patrol officers rose 47 percent from the previous year.
And despite the increase in attacks, Vitiello touted a decrease in use-of-firearm incidents by Border Patrol officers, 17 in fiscal 2017, down from 26 in 2016 and an all-time high of 55 in 2012.
Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), a fierce critic of the Trump administration's immigration enforcement policies, said the reduction in firearm incidents is an "improvement."
"A lot of it has to do with, for previous two years, the pressure from Congress, the pressure from outside organizations about the use of deadly force and the lack of investigation and documentation as to the use of that force," said Grijalva.
Still, less-than-lethal use of force incidents saw a slight uptick, from 947 last year to 979 in 2017.