A week after he won the election, President Trump promised that he would round up millions of immigrant gang members and drug dealers. After he took office, arrests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers surged 40 percent. ICE officials praise Trump for putting teeth back into immigration enforcement, and they say they continue to prioritize national security threats and violent criminals, as the Obama administration did. As ICE officers get wider latitude to determine whom they detain, the biggest jump has been of immigrants with no criminal convictions. The agency made 37,734 “noncriminal” arrests in fiscal 2017, more than twice the number in the previous year, the Washington Post reports. The category includes suspects facing possible charges as well as those without criminal records.
Critics say ICE is increasingly grabbing at the lowest-hanging fruit of deportation-eligible immigrants to meet the president’s unrealistic goals, replacing a targeted system with a scattershot approach aimed at boosting the agency’s enforcement statistics. ICE has not carried out mass roundups or major workplace raids under Trump, but nearly every week brings a contentious new arrest. A Virginia mother was sent back to El Salvador after her 11 years in the U.S. unraveled because of a traffic stop. A Connecticut man with an American-born wife and children and no criminal record was deported to Guatemala last week. Immigrants whose only crime was living in the U.S. illegally were largely left alone in the latter years of the Obama administration. That policy has been scrapped. Those facing deportation who show up for periodic “check-ins” with ICE to appeal for more time in the U.S. can no longer be confident that good behavior will spare them from detention. Once-routine appointments now can end with the immigrants in handcuffs.