More Prisoners In Immigration Jails And Other Signs Of Shift Under Trump

Mar 24, 2017

Ever since President Donald Trump's executive orders in January, immigration officials have insisted that when it comes to enforcement, it's business as usual - mostly. Statistics are hard to come by, especially at the local level. But there are signs of a shift at Immigration Customs & Enforcement, or ICE.

ICE officials haven't announced how many people they've arrested since January, other than one press release on Feb. 13 about "a series of targeted enforcement actions" around the country. That mentioned 190 arrests in ICE's Atlanta region, which includes Georgia and the Carolinas.

When we asked for updated numbers this week, Atlanta ICE spokesman Bryan Cox pointed us back to that February press release.  

ICE officers making an arrest.
Credit Immigration & Customs Enforcement

But he also said the number of people being detained by ICE has gone up.  As of Feb. 13, the average number of people in ICE custody was 41,087 per day. That's up from an average daily population of 34,376 in 2016 - an increase of 6,711 per day.

As for arrests, Cox said they "do not typically track statistics" below the regional level. So that means no numbers for Charlotte or Raleigh or other local areas. But he did say that ICE still has the same number of fugitive operations teams as last year.

Meanwhile, Cox said ICE is still targeting the same kinds of unauthorized immigrants as last year.  He provided this official statement:

“ICE focuses its enforcement resources on individuals who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security. ICE conducts targeted immigration enforcement in compliance with federal law and agency policy. ICE does not conduct sweeps or raids that target aliens indiscriminately. However, as Secretary Kelly has made clear, ICE will no longer exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement.”

That change in who's exempt may partially explain the higher prisoner count in ICE detention centers.  Cox also acknowledges that when agents do make a series of arrests, they're more likely now also to arrest anyone else they find with unauthorized status.  

Also, immigration lawyers say ICE now is also more likely to detain people with previous deportation orders who have been allowed to stay here under what's called an "order of supervision." These are people who could be deported, but under Obama-era policy have been allowed to stay because of extraordinary circumstances: They might have a spouse or children who are U.S. citizens, or a sick relative, for example.

"I would not dispute that people who, based on their unique circumstances, are seeing a difference. They're on the margins. But there has not been any fundamental change in terms of enforcement activity," Cox said.

That may be true in Charlotte. But agents may be stepping up enforcement in cities that don't do enough to help ICE, those the Trump administration deems as "sanctuary cities."  Citing an immigration judge and other sources, CNN reported this week that immigration officials have discussed increasing raids in sanctuary cities.

Charlotte and other cities in North Carolina aren't on the list. That's because sanctuary city laws are illegal under state law. And the Mecklenburg County Sheriff's office helps ICE by participating in what's called the 287(g) program. That federal program allows the Department of Homeland Security and ICE to sign agreements with local law enforcement officials to detain unauthorized  immigrants who have been accused of crimes.