New data suggests that President Joe Biden's determination to undo, reverse, and otherwise erase former President Donald Trump's immigration enforcement policies led to fewer arrests and deportations in February.
According to an analysis of data from Immigration and Customs Enforcement conducted by the Washington Post, the number of illegal immigrants taken into custody by ICE agents fell more than 60% in February compared to the last three months of the Trump administration. Deportations fell at a similar rate.
The drop in arrests and deportations is a direct result of Biden's orders. Among the president's first actions after assuming office was an executive order freezing deportations for 100 days and ordering ICE to conduct a review of its law enforcement policies. The White House issued guidance to ICE, ordering agents to "stop all removals" and release detainees.
Biden's deportation moratorium was indefinitely blocked by a federal judge after the state of Texas sued the federal government, claiming the order violated the Constitution and a contractural agreement between Texas and the Department of Homeland Security. Although deportations continued, the Biden administration shifted law enforcement priorities with new guidance.
On Feb. 22, ICE released an official statement explaining that the agency would "focus the agency's civil immigration enforcement and removal resources on threats to national security, border security and public safety." The guidance limits ICE to enforcing the law against aliens considered to be national security threats, recent border-crossers, or violent criminals considered a threat to public safety. ICE agents must obtain written permission from senior staff before attempting to arrest fugitive aliens that do not fall into one of those categories.
"By focusing our limited resources on cases that present threats to national security, border security, and public safety, our agency will more ably and effectively execute its law enforcement mission," ICE Acting Director Tae Johnson said. "Like every law enforcement agency at the local, state and federal level, we must prioritize our efforts to achieve the greatest security and safety impact."
As a result of these policies, the Washington Post reports that ICE made 2,600 deportations in February, down from 5,583 in January. At the end of the Trump administration, ICE averaged nearly 6,800 arrests in October, November, and December. In February, ICE only made 2,500 arrests.
On Tuesday, the states of Arizona and Montana filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration seeking to undo Biden's ICE enforcement policies. The attorneys general of these states claim their states will be harmed if aliens with criminal charges or convictions that are not covered by Biden's guidelines are not deported and instead are released into their communities.
"Despite a clear mandate of federal statutory law, Defendants believe that there are literally no constraints whatsoever on their authority, and they may release individuals, including those charged with or convicted of crimes, even when immigration courts have already ordered their removal from the United States," the states argued in their complaint.