Arrests Rise, But Prosecutions and Deportations Decline; Thousands Remain in Detention Limbo
Trump talks tough about immigration, one of his favorite topics and base bait and something that he’s already capitalizing on after the recent terrorist attack in New York City. And though arrests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have risen under his administration, court case filings have drastically plummeted since he took office and deportations have dropped.
The Department of Homeland Security, which initiates legal proceedings by issuing notices-to-appear in court, or NTAs, to defendants, has not kept pace with ICE, which likes to broadcast its successful roundup of immigrants only to have them linger in the system on the taxpayer dollar.
Since December 2016, with notices-to-appear issued topping just over 30,000 under President Barack Obama, they have consistently fallen under Trump, hovering around half that, or at the 15,000 mark, for the past six months, according to data compiled and analyzed by Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University.
There was a bump in notices-to-appear issued in the beginning of the year, and any data that suggest notices-to-appear in immigration court since January have been above 20,000, would be because more than 75,000 Homeland Security court filings since then were actually begun under the Obama administration but carried out under Trump.
And that gets to another issue, the backlog of unfiled notices-to-appear with the courts, which further obscures Trump’s decline in immigration cases. A typical amount of time between when a notice-to-appear had been issued and when it was filed with the court used to be just 14 days in the period from 1998 through 2013, though it has been steadily climbing since. Last year the median reached 33 days. For fiscal year 2017, it grew to 44 days. It now takes the department more than 160 days to file more than a quarter of all of its notices-to-appear. And in September, 10% of cases were seeing delays of at least 295 days and 5% were expected to see delays last beyond a year.
Once those cases do get filed with the court, they’ll be added to another backlog. At the end of September 2016, the Immigration Court backlog was just over 500,000 cases. When Trump took office, it was 542,411 cases. Now, the backlog has grown to more than 629,000 cases—up 117, 020 in fiscal year 2017 alone, most of it since Trump was sworn in. And that’s with the hiring of 74 additional immigration judges over the past year and a significant drop in new case filings.
While Homeland Security and the courts try to dig out of their respective backlogs, ICE is apparently not slowing down. Just three weeks shy of the close of fiscal year 2017, ICE had already made 43% more arrests than the prior year, but had deported 12% fewer illegal immigrants than in 2016—most likely due to the strain on the judicial system. And it could take years before the new detainees are moved through the system, let alone deported.
And though ICE agents have marching orders to prioritize arresting immigrants with criminal records, under Trump, the fastest-growing category of arrests is those facing no criminal charges. Between Trump’s inauguration and Sept. 2, the agency arrested more than 28,000 “non-criminal immigration violators”—nearly three times the number of people in that category arrested during the same period a year ago, according to the Washington Post article.