Like it or hate it, Trump’s immigration enforcement is failing

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has released its FY2017 immigration enforcement report.  It indicates that President Trump has reduced the number of illegal border crossings, but it shows no progress at all on reducing the number of undocumented aliens who are in the United States already.  

An immigration court backlog crisis is making it extremely difficult for him to move new cases through removal proceedings.

Where enforcement is now.

Removals have actually gone down under the Trump administration:

DHS claims this is because fewer aliens are being apprehended in the vicinity of the border, which is where most removals take place. Trump has succeeded in reducing the number of illegal border crossings by reversing the damage President Obama did to border security with his interior enforcement policies.

{mosads}When Barack Obama was president, he focused his immigration enforcement efforts on aliens who had been convicted of serious crimes or who had been caught near the border after making an illegal entry, and he protected aliens here unlawfully who were not in a priority category.  

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers were required to obtain permission from a Field Office Director before arresting an apparently deportable alien who was not in a priority category. 

This created what I called a “home free magnet.”  Aliens wanting to enter the United States illegally knew that they would be safe from deportation once they had reached the interior of the country unless they were convicted of a serious crime.  This was a powerful incentive to do whatever was necessary to cross the border into the United States.

Trump destroyed this magnet with tough campaign rhetoric and his Executive Order, Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States, which greatly expanded enforcement priorities. No deportable alien is safe under President Trump’s enforcement policies.

In April 2017, CBP reported a sharp decline in the number of aliens apprehended along the Southwest border, and in the number of aliens who were found inadmissible at ports of entry. 

But border security just keeps new aliens from entering the country illegally.  It does not reduce the population of undocumented aliens who are in the country already, and this is where Trump’s enforcement program is failing.

The removal statistics above consist mainly of aliens who were caught in the vicinity of the border after making an illegal entry.  

If you compare the internal removal statistics for Trump’s first eight months in office to former president Obama’s record over the same time period in FY2016, you will see that Trump made a 37 percent increase in internal removals.  Progress, certainly, but not enough to make a meaningful difference.

Trump’s internal removal statistics show an average of 7,637 removals a month over an eight-month period.  If he maintains this rate, he will remove approximately 91,644 undocumented aliens a year from the interior of the country, which would only be 366,564 removals by the end of his term in office.

That isn’t even enough to keep up with the number of aliens that become a part of the undocumented population in a single year as overstays.  According to the Fiscal Year 2016 Entry/Exit Overstay Report, 739,478 aliens who entered the United States in FY2016 on temporary nonimmigrant visas did not leave at the end of their authorized period of stay.

According to the Pew Research Center, the undocumented immigrant population in 2015 was 11.3 million, and I think the actual number is much larger.  I explain why in my analysis of PEW’s methods for making such estimates.

The backlog crisis.

At a Center for Immigration Studies panel discussion on the immigration court backlog, Immigration Judge Larry Burman said, “I cannot give you a merits hearing on my docket unless I take another case off.  My docket is full through 2020, and I was instructed by my assistant chief immigration judge not to set any cases past 2020.”

This is going to get much worse.

According to a backgrounder on Trump’s plan to deal with the backlog, the immigration court had a backlog of 650,000 cases as of December 2017, and the pace of caseload increases is accelerating:

  • FY2014 – FY2015: +48,000 cases
  • FY2015 – FY 2016: +60,000 cases
  • FY2016 – FY017: +100,000 cases (projected)

Trump’s plan is to more fully utilize immigration court resources and increase the number of immigration judges.  

The immigration court currently has 339 judges.  If funding is approved, the number will be increased to 449 judges, and a new, streamlined hiring plan is showing signs of reducing the hiring process from 742 days to 6-8 months.

The average backlog now per judge is 1,917 cases, and at the projected rate of increase, there could be 50,000 to 66,000 more cases to assign by the time the new judges are ready to start.

Trump’s enforcement program will fail if he doesn’t resolve this problem.

Nolan Rappaport was detailed to the House Judiciary Committee as an executive branch immigration law expert for three years; he subsequently served as an immigration counsel for the Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Claims for four years. Prior to working on the Judiciary Committee, he wrote decisions for the Board of Immigration Appeals for 20 years.

Tags Barack Obama Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act Demography Donald Trump Executive Order 13768 Illegal immigration Illegal immigration to the United States Immigration to the United States Removal proceedings U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

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