ICE Targets Fewer Criminals in Deportation Proceedings

In deportation proceedings initiated during July - September 2011 by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in the nation's 50 plus Immigration Courts, only 7,378 individuals — just 13.8 percent of the total — were charged with having engaged in criminal activities. Of those targeted, the proportion of alleged "criminals" is down significantly from the already low level of 16.5 percent during FY 2010.

Not only has ICE targeted relatively few criminals as the basis for seeking deportation in these court proceedings, but this proportion has been declining steadily throughout the past year: 15.8 percent were charged with engaging in criminal activity during the first quarter period (October - December 2010), 15.1 percent during the second quarter (January - March 2011), 14.9 percent during the third quarter (April - June 2011), and finally 13.8 percent during the fourth quarter (July - September 2011). The average rate across the four quarters for FY 2011 was 14.9 percent.

These results are based upon analyses of case-by-case records covering all proceedings filed in the Immigration Courts and were obtained from the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University. EOIR, a part of the Department of Justice, administers the nation's special administrative court system charged with deciding whether noncitizens should be deported or are legally entitled to remain in the country[1].

These same case-by-case court records showed that during FY 2011 ICE initiated deportation proceedings against 188,770 individuals who were charged only with violating immigration rules. This amounted to 83.4 percent of the total cases. The proportion charged only with violating immigration rules was up slightly over levels in FY 2010 when 81.9 percent were so charged (see Table 1).

Table 1. Deportation Proceedings Initiated in Immigration Courts by ICE
Most Serious ICE Charge Number* Percent
FY 2010 FY 2011 FY 2010 FY 2011
Total individuals charged 245,706 226,342 100.0% 100.0%
national security/terrorism 42 30 0.0% 0.0%
criminal 40,500 33,763 16.5% 14.9%
immigration only 201,340 188,770 81.9% 83.4%
* FY 2011 counts based on current EOIR records can be expected to rise slightly once late reporting is incorporated. In each year there were a small number with other miscellaneous charges, or on whom the information wasn't recorded. ICE can choose to bring multiple charges so classification is based upon the most serious charge.

The number of individuals ICE sought to deport on national security or terrorism grounds — always few in number — also fell this past year. During FY 2010 a total of 42 deportation proceedings in the Immigration Courts included these grounds. This fell to only 30 during the past year (again, see Table 1).

See also TRAC's previous report tracking the basis for deportation proceedings for the decade before 9/11 with the decade after 9/11, and contrasting Bush and Obama administration records.

Deportation Proceedings and Charge:
By Nationality, State and Hearing Location

On the basis of the extremely detailed and timely records that TRAC has obtained, enforcement patterns can be determined for each state, Immigration Court and hearing location. What were the charges brought against each of the individuals in these various locations? What was their nationality? You can now access these detailed and highly localized portraits on TRAC's public website by accessing a new special web-based interactive tool.

Comprehensive data covering FY 1992 through FY 2011 are now included. TRAC's app lets you track — on a charge-by-charge basis — how well or poorly the deportation proceedings initiated by ICE actually match its announced priorities and policies. With the prosecutorial discretion ICE is asking its attorneys and enforcement personnel to exercise, are the agency's limited resources being focused on high priority targets for deportation? Those charged simply with entry without inspection are separately enumerated among these charge classes. Also included is information on whether the individual charged was a so-called "aggravated" felon, or charged with some other criminal violation.

ICE Refuses to Release Data

TRAC's findings appear to contrast sharply with the White House's announcement that: "Under the President's direction, for the first time ever the Department of Homeland Security has prioritized the removal of people who have been convicted of crimes in the United States." The findings also are hard to reconcile with ICE's recent press statements that claimed that during the past year the agency had targeted a large and increasing number of convicted criminals for deportation.

Unfortunately, while the agency could easily clear up these apparent discrepancies it has chosen not to do so. Indeed, for twenty months, in clear violation of public disclosure laws, ICE has persisted in withholding from TRAC the case-by-case data TRAC requested under FOIA that the agency maintains on these same court proceedings — information precisely parallel to what the Department of Justice already determined must be released to the public from its own files. DHS and other government offices have failed to rectify this matter despite TRAC's appeals to DHS's Director of Disclosure and FOIA Operations, as well as to the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS).

The records ICE is withholding would show just which ICE programs — such as Secure Communities or others — have contributed to fewer alleged criminals being targeted for deportation in court proceedings. The data would also allow the public to judge whether ICE's actual activities match ICE's announced policies to target serious criminals, and those who pose threats to public safety, as well as to better monitor how the agency exercises prosecutorial discretion in whom it seeks to deport.

In addition, TRAC contacted ICE's Public Relations office on November 7, 2011 asking for explanations of the figures given in the agency's October 18, 2011 press release that claimed the agency's FY 2011 accomplishments closely matched announced ICE priorities. At a meeting with ICE officials November 10, the agency promised to promptly provide answers to a series of TRAC questions that asked for details backing up the agency's claims. Again and again, however, the promised answers did not materialize. ICE's Public Affairs office continues to say the promised answers will be forthcoming.

[1] We used the term "deportation" in a generic sense — whether legally labeled as removal, deportation, or expulsion based upon inadmissibility grounds.