The report attributes the sharp decrease in deportations to President Joe Biden's immigration policies.
On his first day in office on Jan. 20, Biden ordered a 100-day freeze on deportations and implemented several restrictions on ICE that relaxed enforcement of immigration law. The restrictions had the effect of limiting immigration law enforcement to remove only known or suspected national security threats, aggravated felons, and recent illegal arrivals.
The deportation order and restrictions on ICE were both challenged in court. A court ordered the administration to reverse the deportation freeze in February after a Texas lawsuit, which alleged that the federal government committed grave fiscal and public safety harm to its citizens by suspending enforcement of immigration law. In August, the restrictions on ICE were blocked by a federal judge in Texas who found they were improperly enacted by the Biden administration, but that decision was reversed on appeal.
In September, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas solidified the restrictions on immigration enforcement with a new memo superseding the Biden administration's previous order. Under the policy, illegal immigrants can no longer be detained and deported from the U.S. simply because of their immigration status. ICE is directed to focus on the arrest and deportation of people suspected of terrorism, espionage, or serious violent crimes, and to migrants who illegally crossed the U.S.-Mexico border after Nov. 1, 2020.
CIS found that these policies have resulted in a dramatic decrease in deportations by ICE from prior years. Records from the first five months of the Biden administration show that from January 21 to July 9, 2021, ICE removed 18,713 illegal aliens. Over the same period in 2020, a time during which there was reduced activity because of the COVID-19 pandemic, ICE still removed 93,247 aliens. In 2019, the last normal year for immigration enforcement, ICE removed 186,019 aliens, nearly 10 times the number of removals performed by the current administration.
The report says the records include information on each alien removed by ICE, including date of removal, criminal convictions, and the ICE field office that handled the removal. It cautions, however, that ICE did not provide information on whether the removed alien was arrested at the border or in the interior, but nevertheless said the records show "just how dramatically the new Biden policies have reduced ICE enforcement activity."
Arrest records from ICE Field Offices from parts of the country where ICE mostly handles interior arrests show a sharp decrease in cases. Removals from places such as Atlanta, Baltimore, Denver, Miami, New York City, Newark, Philadelphia, Salt Lake City, and Washington D.C./Virginia have all dropped dramatically.
For instance, there were 1,749 illegal immigrants removed from New York City in 2019, but only 146 removals two years later in 2021. Another sharp decrease happened in Atlanta, with 10,360 deportations made in 2019, then 5,235 in 2020, and finally just 982 in 2021.
CIS noted some cities recorded a "shockingly low" number of deportations. The field office in Baltimore, Maryland, which covers immigration enforcement for the entire state, including in Montgomery and Prince Georges Counties near Washington, D.C., removed just 32 illegal aliens during the first five months of Biden's administration.
The report also found that although a greater percentage of all aliens deported under Biden's watch had been convicted of serious crimes — which was the Biden administration's stated priority — a much smaller number of serious criminal aliens were removed than in previous years. ICE removed only 6,000 serious criminal aliens under Biden in 2021 compared to more than 175,000 removed under former President Donald Trump's administration during the same period in 2019.
“Biden officials claim that the new policies make ICE more efficient, but in fact, the result is simply less enforcement, and even enforcement against criminals, who should be the top priority. They have accomplished the near abolition of interior immigration enforcement by miring officers in red tape or taking them off the job. Not only is this approach a waste of government resources, it greatly undermines the integrity of our legal immigration system and ends up causing public safety problems to boot,” said CIS policy director Jessica M. Vaughan in a statement to the Washington Examiner.
She added that Biden's changes to immigration policy were made "to protect noncitizens who don’t qualify to stay."
"The rationalizations to avoid deporting criminal aliens are mind-boggling — homicide convictions are OK if they took place years ago, sex offense convictions are OK if the perpetrator has a family here, drug trafficking is OK if it was pleaded down to possession, don’t look in any databases to find out if vicious punks are gang members. It’s insulting to legal immigrants, it will be costly for communities, and there will be people who pay a terrible price because of Biden’s policies,” she said.
The Center for Immigration Studies is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that researches U.S. immigration policy and supports a "pro-immigrant, low-immigration vision which seeks fewer immigrants but a warmer welcome for those admitted."