Arrests of illegal immigrants by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in May remained low for yet another month — amid an ongoing controversy over narrowed enforcement rules implemented by the Biden administration.
There were 2,837 arrests in May, just slightly lower than the 2,847 arrested in April, and higher than the 2,343 arrested in March and 1,985 arrested in February, according to ICE statistics.
The arrests in all those months were just a fraction of the arrests made in the final months of the Trump administration. There were 6,804 arrests in October, 5,978 in November, 6,070 arrested in December and then a dip to 5,117 in January.
In 2020, ICE arrested 11,865 illegal immigrants in February, 10,431 in March, 5,793 in April and 5,579 in May.
The dramatic drop coincided with new interim guidance issued by the Biden administration, after it first tried to impose a 100-day moratorium on deportations – which was shut down by a judge in response to a lawsuit by Texas.
The new rules, issued in February, limit ICE officers to targeting recent border crossers, national security threats and “aggravated felons.” While officials note that technically no one is ruled out of being deported, ICE officers who want to arrest someone outside of those categories need preapproval from a superior.
“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 in a statement. “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.”
Separately, DHS has also now barred ICE from making arrests at or near courthouses.
“We continue to use the civil immigration enforcement priorities to focus our resources on threats to national security, border security and public safety,” an ICE spokesperson told Fox News in May. “ICE will continue to carry out the duties of enforcing the laws of the United States to further the security and safety of our communities.”
Republicans have challenged the interim guidance in particular, saying that even as border crossings have soared in recent months, deportations and arrests have dropped. Arizona and Missouri have sued to challenge the guidance, and led to a discovery process that revealed that ICE agents predicted the rules would lead to a 50% decrease in book-ins.
“Practically speaking, the result of what the Biden administration is doing, it is literally slashing the amount of people being deported, slashing amount of arrests and it literally means people that are dangerous, people who are felons are being released into our communities, so that is a threat to every neighborhood and every person,” Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich told Fox News in an interview last month.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Homeland Security Secretary Alejando Mayorkas said that his agency is conducting a review of ICE and its priorities, and that he expects “significant changes” when that review is complete.
“What those changes will be, I am wrestling with right now, quite frankly,” Mayorkas said, the newspaper reported.
The Post also reported on the sense of frustration in ICE, where officers are more fearful of facing punishment for making an arrest rather than not doing so.
“It’s a weird, frustrating time,” said one ICE official. “It feels like the administration doesn’t have our backs.”