Under Biden, the Department of Homeland Security introduced a series of political changes that marked a move away from aggressive law enforcement measures by the Trump administration. This included modifying the guidelines to focus arrests on threats to national, public and border security. According to the agency’s data, in fiscal 2021, the ICE made more than 74,000 administrative arrests – for immigration violations – compared to the Trump administration when annual administrative arrests exceeded 100,000. ICE, under the previous administration, gave officers more freedom to make arrests.
Senior ICE officials highlighted the impact of the pandemic on operations on Friday, highlighting the difficulties of comparing the data to previous years.
“I can’t overstate the impact Covid has had on the agency this past year and a half, actually, but definitely this fiscal year,” a senior official said, noting the closings and other countries that refused to accept deportation cases.
Data for fiscal 2021 covers the final months of the Trump administration and the beginning of the Biden era.
Of all the arrests made, 45,755 occurred after the ICE revised its guidelines last February under Biden, according to newly released data. Almost half of these arrests were for convicted criminals, while 55% of those arrested were classified as “border security threats”, which includes those stopped by the US border patrol.
The return to the priority arrest system was one of several political changes introduced by Biden. Over the past year, ICE has also ended contracts with two detention centers, stopped long-term detention of families, stopped mass immigration raids on jobs and started moving towards alternatives to detention, such as ankle bracelets.
A high-ranking ICE official told reporters on Friday that “the focused approach has produced measurable success”, including, for example, doubling the arrests of high-profile crime compared to last year.
Deportations also fell dramatically in the first year of Biden’s administration. ICE deported some 59,000 last year, up from 185,884 a year earlier.
Overseeing the structural change is ICE Acting Director Tae Johnson, who remained in charge of the agency during the months-long process of confirming Biden’s election to ICE leadership, Ed Gonzalez.
Gonzalez’s confirmation this week was school after Democrats in the Senate withdrew their vote to advance his nomination when there was an alleged domestic complaint. The White House said it was still behind Gonzalez, who called the allegations in the complaint false.
While immigrant advocates and democratic lawmakers welcomed the changes to the ICE, they were critical of the continued use of private detention and access to Covid-19 vaccines for those held.
Earlier this month, the American Civil Liberties Union also filed a nationwide class action lawsuit against ICE, claiming that a federal agency had failed to provide Covid-19 booster vaccines for inmates requiring medical care.