Trump administration resumes deportation arrests after halting amid pandemic, report reveals

President Donald Trump participates in a ceremony commemorating the 200th mile of border wall at the international border with Mexico (AFP via Getty Images)
President Donald Trump participates in a ceremony commemorating the 200th mile of border wall at the international border with Mexico (AFP via Getty Images)

The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has resumed deportation arrests after halting briefly at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

It was announced in March that ICE and the Trump administration would be temporarily halting enforcement across the United States except efforts to deport foreign nationals who’ve committed serious crimes or pose a threat to public safety. This halt was in an effort to curb the spread of the novel virus.

In a notification sent to Congress in March, the agency said its Enforcement and Removal Operations agency would “delay enforcement actions” and use “alternatives to detentions”, The Washington Post reported. The notification added that the agency’s “highest priorities are to promote lifesaving and public safety activities.”

“During the COVID-19 crisis, ICE will not carry out enforcement operations at or near health care facilities, such as hospitals, doctors’ offices, accredited health clinics, and emergent or urgent care facilities, except in the most extraordinary of circumstances,” the notification added. “Individuals should not avoid seeking medical care because they fear civil immigration enforcement.”

But a report in The New York Times has revealed a return to the agency’s deportation arrest, and government data has suggested ICE was not only targeting criminals in its arrests.

Since mid-July, ICE agents have detained more than 2,000 people after they were taken from their home, workplaces, and other sites, including the US post office. Of these arrests, 300 were made in Los Angeles. Other cities impacted are in states including Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Utah and Wyoming.

About 85 per cent of those arrested either had criminal convictions or pending criminal charges, according to the agency, The New York Times reported.

Fourteen of those people were convicted of homicide and 12 people faced murder charges, the report added. Other convictions or pending charges included domestic violence and “family offences”, which made up the bulk of those detained by ICE.

An analysis done by The New York Times of the government’s data has found that the Trump administration was actually arresting a large number of undocumented immigrants who had committed minor crimes or no crimes at all.

About 10.5 million US residents are undocumented immigrants. Of those immigrants, three out of four said they would choose a legal route to become a legal citizen, according to the Pew Research Centre.

Donald Trump has built his election platform on cracking down on immigration. Since the president has taken office, there has been a steady increase in immigrants detained by ICE without a criminal record,  according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University.

On the last day of April 2019, nearly two-thirds of immigrants in detention facilities, of the 50,000 in total, had no criminal record, which was up 40 per cent from four years earlier when ICE was under President Barack Obama’s administration, according to TRAC.

A higher percentage of those detained with criminal records have convicted minor infractions like driving without a legal license compared to previous years, TRAC reported. 

When looking at the first five months of 2020, TRAC found that 52 per cent of those removed from the US had no criminal record, which was up 40 per cent from the previous three fiscal years.

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