ICE Fails to Target Serious Criminals in Immigration Court Filings
Despite the administration's rhetoric of deporting "criminals" from this country, the latest data from the Immigration Courts through June 2019 shows only 2.8 percent of recent Department of Homeland Security (DHS) filings based deportability claims on any alleged criminal activity. This is way down from the emphasis on deporting criminals that prevailed a decade ago. See Figure 1.
Figure 1. Percent of Immigration Court Filings Seeking Removal Citing Criminal Activity
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Similarly, even the number of Immigration Court filings citing criminal grounds is way down. Despite the rising number of ICE interior arrests and individuals who are detained, fewer and fewer immigrants in the Immigration Court's growing workload are being cited as deportable based upon criminal activity. During the first nine months of FY 2019 only 7,458 cases have been lodged by DHS citing criminal activity as a basis for seeking the removal order. If this same pace continues for the remaining three months of the year, the total is still unlikely to reach 10,000. A decade or more ago immigrants with criminal records or alleged criminal activity involved 30,000 to 40,000 court filings each year. See Table 1.
Table 1. Immigration Court Filings Seeking Removal Citing Criminal Activity
This drop is similar to what TRAC has reported earlier for a variety of immigration enforcement actions. For example, despite the increasing number of individuals ICE detains, TRAC found that fewer and fewer immigrants convicted of serious felonies were arrested and held in custody by the agency. In contrast, immigrants who were detained but had never been convicted of even a minor violation shot up 39 percent.
How Patterns Vary Across Immigration Courts
There is some variability in the make-up of DHS court filings depending upon the specific Immigration Court. Not surprisingly given standards for mandatory detention, Immigration Courts hearing cases at ICE detention facilities often have higher proportions of individuals where DHS cites alleged criminal activity as a basis for seeking removal. But even here immigrants make up a small minority of the court's docket. For example in Tacoma, Washington which handles cases at the Northwest Detention Center only one in ten cases (10.3) this year cite criminal activity as a basis for seeking the immigrant's removal. At Miami-Krome, the proportion rises to one out of eight (12.1%). Higher proportions, however, are observed at two Immigration Courts - York and Napanoch - which hear cases at prisons involving immigrants who have been convicted of crimes for which they are serving prison terms.
At the other end of the continuum, at ten Immigration Courts less than 0.5 percent of DHS filings this year involved alleged criminal activity as a basis for removal. At the top of this list with the smallest proportion is the Immigration Court based in Houston. Court records there show that only 5 out of 15,063 new filings cited a criminal record as a basis DHS alleged justified the immigrant's removal. Other courts with extremely low numbers are: Newark, Louisville, New Orleans, and San Diego. At each of these courts less than one out of a thousand (only 0.1%) removal orders sought were based upon alleged criminal activity.
The corresponding numbers and percentages at each Immigration Court are shown in Table 2. These figures are based on court records covering the first nine months of FY 2019 (October 2018 - June 2019). Additional details can be viewed at TRAC's free web query tool that provides detailed data by charge on New Deportation Proceedings by month and year from FY 1992 through June 2019.
Table 2. Immigration Court Filings Seeking Removal Citing Criminal Activity, October 2018-June 2019