By Matt Hadro
Immigration arrests have risen sharply in 2017 compared to the previous year, after the Trump administration unveiled stricter immigration policies, which were decried by the U.S. bishops.
In the first 100 days after President Donald Trump signed an executive order on the subject, immigration arrests are up almost 40 percent compared with the same time last year.
According to data from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency’s Enforcement and Removal Operations deportation officers made 41,318 immigration arrests between Jan. 22 and April 29, 2017, more than 400 arrests per day and up from 30,028 made between Jan. 24 and April 30, 2016.
“These statistics reflect President Trump’s commitment to enforce our immigration laws fairly and across the board,” ICE’s acting director Thomas Homan stated.
In January, President Trump had directed in an executive order that his administration intended on enforcing federal immigration law, and called for a wall be constructed on the U.S.-Mexico border as well as the construction of additional immigrant detention centers and the hiring of new immigration officials.
Then in February, the Department of Homeland Security issued a memoranda implementing the order.
The new DHS rules called for, among other things, speeding up deportations, the construction of new immigrant detention facilities, enforcement of federal immigration law by local law enforcement officers, and the publication of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants, the New York Times had reported.
Also, undocumented parents living in the U.S. who attempt to have their children smuggled into the country could be prosecuted for human trafficking under the new DHS rules.
The chair of the U.S. bishops’ migration committee warned that the rules would target vulnerable persons along with criminals.
“Taken together, these memoranda constitute the establishment of a large-scale enforcement system that targets virtually all undocumented migrants as ‘priorities’ for deportation, thus prioritizing no one,” Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, Tex. stated after the rules were issued.
With local police officers enforcing federal immigration law, this could disrupt their relationships with immigrant communities, the bishop continued, as immigrants could not be “fearful of cooperating…in both reporting and investigating criminal matters.”
ICE reported that the rise in arrests was a result of the Trump administration’s immigration policy where criminals would primarily be targeted for arrest, but other undocumented persons, if discovered, would also be detained.
Almost 75 percent of those arrested in 2017 – 30,473 persons – were convicted criminals, ICE said, with convictions ranging from homicide and assault to drug-related charges. “Non-criminal arrests,” meanwhile, jumped to 10,800 in 2017, compared to 4,200 at the same time in 2016.
“ICE agents and officers have been given clear direction to focus on threats to public safety and national security, which has resulted in a substantial increase in the arrest of convicted criminal aliens,” acting director Thomas Homan stated. “However, when we encounter others who are in the country unlawfully, we will execute our sworn duty and enforce the law.”
“We are a nation of laws, and ignoring orders issued by federal judges undermines our constitutional government,” said Homan.
Bishops of dioceses along the U.S.-Mexican border signed a joint statement in February calling for the dignity of immigrants to be respected.
“Immigration is a global phenomenon arising from economic and social conditions of poverty and insecurity,” U.S. and Mexican bishops stated. “It directly displaces entire populations causing families to feel that migration is the only way to survive.”
“The migrant has a right to be respected by international law and national law as he/she faces the violence, criminality, and inhuman policies of governments as well as the world’s indifference,” they continued. “Regardless of one’s migration condition, the intrinsic human dignity that every person possesses must be respected in the person of the migrant.”
“They are commonly subjected to punitive laws and are often mistreated by civil authorities in their countries of origin, the countries through which they travel, and the countries of their destination. It is essential that governments adopt policies that respect the basic human rights of undocumented migrants,” they stated.