Federal immigration agents have arrested more than 40,000 people since President Trump signed executive orders expanding the scope of deportation priorities in January — a 38% increase over the same period last year.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement acting Director Thomas Homan said Wednesday that Trump had “opened the aperture” of charges that immigration agents are permitted to prosecute, a departure from Obama administration priorities that targeted immigrants in the country illegally who have serious criminal convictions.
“There is no category of aliens off the table,” Homan said.
In late January, Trump stripped away most restrictions on who should be deported. A Los Angeles Times analysis revealed that more than 8 million people in the U.S. illegally could now be considered priorities for deportation. Under President Obama, about 1.4 million people were considered priorities for removal.
Trump’s orders instruct federal agents to deport not only those convicted of crimes, but also those who aren’t charged but are believed to have committed “acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense.”
The new numbers, released in a call with reporters, suggest that Trump’s pledge to step up deportations is bearing fruit, at least in some parts of the country.
Although the president’s plan to build an expanded wall on the U.S.-Mexico border has been stymied — Congress refused to include funding for it in a recent budget deal — his new border security priorities appear to be having a significant impact on immigration enforcement.
The stepped-up immigration arrests have not been reflected in Southern California, where the detention rate has remained relatively flat and agents say they have done little to change their enforcement strategy.
Homan said that in his estimation, federal agents are happier with Trump’s directives than they were under Obama’s more cautious approach.
“When officers are allowed to do their jobs, morale increases,” said Homan, who also served under Obama. “I think morale is up.”
Homan said the paucity of people trying to enter the country illegally, a number that has reached a record low, means agents have more time to spend on removals from the nation’s interior.
According to the new ICE data, nearly 75% of those arrested in the 100 days since Trump signed his new executive orders on immigration are convicted criminals, with offenses ranging from homicide and assault to sexual abuse and drug-related charges.
But there has also been a significant increase in the number of noncriminals arrested. A total of 10,800 people were arrested whose only offense was entering the country illegally — more than twice the 4,200 such immigrants taken into custody in the first four months of 2016.
“While these data clearly reflect the fact that convicted criminals are an immigration enforcement priority, Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly has made it clear that ICE will no longer exempt any class of individuals from removal proceedings if they are found to be in the country illegally,” the agency said in its report.
Migrant advocates were quick to condemn the administration’s priorities.
Addressing claims by Kelly that the administration is only focusing on criminals, and Wednesday’s numbers, Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice Education Fund, said the majority of people targeted cannot be considered “serious criminals.”
“These guys spin, distort, exaggerate, and dissemble almost as much as the president they work for,” Sharry said. “The false claims are aimed at providing cover for an agenda that calls for the deportation of millions. Instead of targeting serious criminals, they are targeting every immigrant they can get their hands on and calling all of them criminals.”
While deportations of migrants caught near the border are generally a quick matter, Homan said, the removal processes for so-called interior deportations take longer. He expects the overall pace of removal proceedings to slow down as fewer border crossers are removed and interior deportations make up a larger share of all removals.
Without providing specific numbers, Homan said assaults on federal agents conducting arrests were up 150% over the same period last year. Homan attributed the increase to “noncompliance” — meaning actively resisting arrest.
Federal agents must also contend with jails that refuse to allow ICE agents inside. Officials at such jails contend that immigration enforcement is outside the scope of their duties, and some say the presence of immigration enforcement agents adversely affects relations with local migrant communities.
Homan said jails that do not allow ICE agents inside to make arrests force the agents to capture migrants on the street, a far more dangerous and expensive proposition.
“If the jail lets them go, we have to send a team of officers,” Homan said. “One officer can make a safe arrest inside a facility. If the jail doesn’t cooperate, we have to go get them.”
Follow Nigel Duara on Twitter: @nigelduara
2:05 p.m.: The article was updated with additional context and background on Trump’s policies.
11:35 a.m.: This article was updated with comments by Frank Sharry and additional remarks by Thomas Homan on trends in immigration enforcement.
This article was originally published at 10:05 a.m.