The U.S. is deporting people more slowly than during the Obama administration despite President Donald Trump’s vast immigration crackdown, according to new data from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
From Feb. 1 to June 30, ICE officials removed 84,473 people — a rate of roughly 16,900 people per month. If deportations continue at the same clip until the fiscal year ends Sept. 30, federal immigration officials will have removed fewer people than they did during even the slowest years of Barack Obama’s presidency.
In fiscal year 2016, ICE removed 240,255 people from the country, a rate of more than 20,000 people per month.
In fiscal year 2012 — the peak year for deportations under Obama — the agency removed an average of roughly 34,000 people per month.
The lower rate of deportations doesn’t mean Trump has embraced a hands-off approach to immigration enforcement. But it may mean that deportations are lagging behind arrest rates or removal orders, which by all accounts have soared since Trump took office.
Soon after being sworn in, Trump signed an order greatly broadening the universe of people who could be targeted for deportation. In the next 100 days, immigration arrests rose by nearly 38 percent compared with the same period a year earlier.
However, an arrest doesn’t always translate into a speedy deportation, and several factors have suppressed the removal rate.
First, the number of people caught trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border has dropped precipitously under Trump, an indication that his hard-line enforcement has scared people away.
Another factor is the immigration courts, which face a backlog of more than 610,000 cases, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.
The case backlog grew exponentially during the Obama administration — partly the result of Central Americans seeking asylum in the U.S. — but the pileup has worsened under Trump. It has expanded by nearly 100,000 cases so far in the current fiscal year, an 18 percent increase.
“The courts are more paralyzed than ever before,” said John Sandweg, who was acting director of ICE from 2013 to 2014.
Sandweg partly blames Trump’s decision to scrap policies that required federal immigration officers to place a priority on apprehending serious criminals instead of non-criminals and lower-level offenders.
“When you go out and you arrest a whole bunch of people willy-nilly, [the judge] has got to fill his docket time hearing those arguments,” Sandweg said.
Still, the immigration courts, which fall under the purview of the Justice Department, could get additional help in coming months.
The DOJ announced Tuesday that it had hired dozens of immigration judges since Trump took office, to meet levels funded by Congress. On top of that, the president’s fiscal year 2018 budget requests 75 additional judges to help clear the backlog.
The department said it “is also reviewing internal practices, procedures, and technology in order to identify ways in which it can further enhance immigration judges’ productivity without compromising due process.”