Assisting with a record flood of people crossing the U.S. southern border strained Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) resources as the number of deportations conducted by the agency lagged again in fiscal year 2022.
ICE deployed more than a thousand of its agents to the southern border throughout the year to supplement Customs and Border Patrol with arresting migrants attempting to enter the U.S. illegally and, in many cases, expelling the migrants immediately from the country under the Title 42 pandemic order, ICE officials told Axios. ICE also sent roughly 300 agents to work on agency priorities internationally.
“ICE continues to disrupt transnational criminal organizations, remove threats to national security and public safety, uphold the integrity of U.S. immigration laws, and collaborate with its colleagues across government and law enforcement in pursuit of our shared mission to keep U.S. communities safe,” ICE Acting Director Tae Johnson said in a Friday statement. The agency released its end-of-the-year report on Friday.
“ICE’s annual report highlights the efforts of our more than 20,000 law enforcement and support personnel in responding to complex cross-border and domestic threats. We will continue to safeguard national security and public safety while living our core values: integrity, courage, and excellence,” Johnson said.
The deployments took ICE officers away from the agency’s main mission: enforcing U.S. immigration laws in the interior of the country. In end-of-the-year data released Friday, the agency reported arresting roughly double the number of illegal aliens in 2022 from 2021. Deportations also increased, but remained at historical lows.
ICE made about 143,000 arrests in fiscal year 2022, an increase from fiscal year 2021’s roughly 74,000 arrests. Much of the 2022 arrests took place at the U.S. border and involved migrants who had just entered the country.
Deportations conducted by the agency also rose from about 59,000 in 2021 to roughly 72,000 in 2022. Both years lagged far behind the number of deportations executed in fiscal year 2020 when nearly 186,000 illegal aliens were removed from the U.S.
ICE is tracking roughly 4.8 million migrant cases that are being processed in immigration courts, nearly a third more than last year. About 1.2 million aliens have been ordered to leave the country by an immigration court.
The immigration enforcement agency tracks many aliens through “Alternative to Detention” (ATD) programs. ATD was created nearly two decades ago with the goal of removing some aliens from crowded detention facilities, but continuing to monitor them through electronic surveillance or mandatory check-ins with case agents. ICE reported that roughly 321,000 aliens are currently enrolled in such programs.
The agency recently said it had “no records” of aliens enrolled in the program since October 2018. ICE responded to an open records request from Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) on ATD enrollees with a letter saying that a search for records turned up nothing.
“ICE has conducted a search of the ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) for records responsive to your request and no records responsive to your request were found,” the agency told TRAC.
TRAC assistant Professor Austin Kocher vented frustration with the agency’s response in a post on social media: “Just days after announcing that the agency had been misleading to the public for months about how many immigrants were on gps ankle monitors, @icegov claims it can’t find records on over 350,000 immigrants in alternatives to detention program.”