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Immigration

Trump wants to deport 'close to a million people' as a priority: Where did the White House get that number?

It is difficult to establish the number of undocumented immigrants who committed a crime and remain in the United States.
24 Feb 2017 – 05:28 PM EST
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A plane arrives to Guatemala carrying a group of people recently deported from the United States. Crédito: Getty Images

The White House this week reiterated that President Donald Trump’s priority is to deal first with undocumented immigrants who “pose a threat” to the United States. On Tuesday, during a press briefing, White House spokesman Sean Spicer put that number at “close to a million people.”

“The number-one priority when you look at the scope of how many people are in the country illegally ... is making sure that people who pose a threat to this country are immediately dealt with,” Spicer said. “And this is not a small group of people; we're talking close to a million people who have already been adjudicated and had their status processed through a formal due process system,” he added.

“Those people who are in this country and pose a threat to our public safety or have committed a crime will be the first to go,” he reiterated.

But it’s unclear who exactly Spicer was referring to. He did not go into further detail when asked about a leaked draft Department of Homeland Security memo, dated January 25, which outlined guidelines for enforcing Trump’s executive orders on immigration.

The reasons why DHS initiated deportation proceedings for 239,086 undocumented people in FY 2016

Main reasons

86% of proceedings were initiated because migrants entered without an inspection (which is not considered a crime) and for some immigration charge considered a crime, but not one that has threatened or attacked national security.

Another

immigration

charge

108,090

(45.21%)

Entering

without an

inspection

97,372

(40.73%)

17,691

(7.4%)

Other

Another

criminal

charge

11,067

(4.63%)

4,838

(2.02%)

Serious

crime

Threatening

or attacing

national

security

25

(0.01%)

Proceedings

in 2016:

239,086

3

(0.001%)

Terrorism

Nationalities

58,069

El Salvador

50,788

Mexico

47,059

Guatemala

Honduras

35,232

China

5,170

India

4,684

Main reasons

86% of proceedings were initiated because migrants entered without an inspection (which is not considered a crime) and for some immigration charge considered a crime, but not one that has threatened or attacked national security.

Another

immigration

charge

108,090

(45.21%)

Entering

without an

inspection

97,372

(40.73%)

17,691

(7.4%)

Other

Another

criminal

charge

11,067

(4.63%)

4,838

(2.02%)

Serious

crime

Threatening

or attacing

national

security

Proceedings

in 2016:

25

(0.01%)

239,086

3

(0.001%)

Terrorism

Nationalities

58,069

50,788

47,059

35,232

5,170

4,684

El Salvador

Guatemala

Honduras

Mexico

China

India

Main reasons

86% of proceedings were initiated because migrants entered without an inspection (which is not considered a crime) and for some immigration charge considered a crime, but not one that has threatened or attacked national security.

108,090

(45.21%)

97,372

(40.73%)

Proceedings

in 2016:

239,086

17,691

(7.4%)

11,067

(4.63%)

4,838

(2.02%)

Another

immigration

charge

Other

Another

criminal

charge

Entering

without an

inspection

Serious

crime

Nationalities

58,069

50,788

47,059

35,232

5,170

4,684

3,916

El Salvador

Mexico

Guatemala

China

India

Ecuador

Honduras

Main reasons

86% of proceedings were initiated because migrants entered without an inspection (which is not considered a crime) and for some immigration charge considered a crime, but not one that has threatened or attacked national security.

108,090

(45.21%)

97,372

(40.73%)

Proceedings

in 2016:

239,086

17,691

(7.4%)

11,067

(4.63%)

4,838

(2.02%)

3

(0.001%)

25

(0.01%)

Another

immigration

charge

Other

Another

criminal

charge

Threatening

or attacing

national

security

Terrorism

Entering

without an

inspection

Serious

crime

Nationalities

58,069

50,788

47,059

35,232

5,170

4,684

3,916

3,631

2,603

1,896

Guatemala

Haiti

Brazil

R. Dominicana

El Salvador

Mexico

Honduras

China

India

Ecuador

FUENTE: TRAC| UNIVISION

Official figures from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) show that the number of deportation proceedings initiated for undocumented immigrants who were charged with having threatened or attacked national security between 2007 and 2017 is tiny: just 0.01 to 0.03 percent of the total number of immigrants who went before judges after committing a crime or crimes.

The same is true when evaluating deportation proceedings initiated for an undocumented immigrant who committed a felony: the highest percentage in the past decade is barely 5 percent.

Most deportation cases don't involve serious crimes. From October 2015 to July 2016, 84 percent of deportation cases in the courts stemmed from immigration violations, according to TRAC.

The most recent monthly figures available, from December 2016, show that former President Barack Obama opened 69,636 deportation proceedings that month. Of those, half were non-criminal cases, while about half involved cases that do represent a crime, but not crimes that threaten public safety.

Only 135 cases relate to the use of weapons or criminal acts, trafficking or use of drugs or controlled substances, and conspiracy to commit a crime or fraud against the U.S. government. The addition of fraud cases related to falsifying identification documents or causes in which an undocumented person lied when being asked for a passport increases the number to 237, which is still a small fraction of the total cases.

One million undocumented people prosecuted?

It is difficult to establish the number of undocumented immigrants who committed a crime and remain in the United States. The number Spicer mentioned may come from a Migration Policy Institute report published in 2015, which estimated that 820,000 undocumented workers were a priority for deportation under Obama for committing a crime. To reach that figure, the institute used a report on the undocumented immigrant population that DHS presented to Congress in 2012.

Deportations by ICE
The Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency deported annually at least 235,000 undocumented immigrants since fiscal year 2008.
SOURCE: ICE | UNIVISION

That’s close to the one million undocumented people Spicer mentioned. But it is a 2015 estimate based on a 2012 report, which does not take into account subsequent deportation proceedings or cases filed against undocumented migrants who entered the country illegally or committed a crime after entering the United States.

Nor does it take into account the number of undocumented immigrants deported by ICE agents since then. In fiscal year 2012, for example, 409,849 undocumented immigrants were deported, according to ICE figures.

And since that year, at least 235,000 undocumented immigrants were deported annually, according to ICE.

In 2006, the most recent fiscal year, 240,255 undocumented immigrants were expelled from the United States. Of those 58 percent, or 138,669, were prosecuted for some crime.

This indicates that many undocumented immigrants included in the Migration Policy Institute’s 2015 estimate have already been deported.

In 2016 then secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson gave Congress a much lower figure, saying only about 180,000 undocumented immigrants with criminal backgrounds were in detention and faced deportation orders.

Univision reviewed the final deportation orders issued by immigration judges between fiscal years 2012 to 2016. The total, 426,479, is slightly less than half the number the White House says need to be deported because they committed a crime or posed a risk to national security.

Deportation orders issued by immigration judges
Between 2012 and 2016 judges issued 426,479 deportation orders.
SOURCE: TRAC | UNIVISION

Do ICE and CBP have their hands tied?

The high ICE deportation numbers resulted in Obama being billed by some as the “deporter in chief.” They also call into question the assertions made by the White House that ICE and the Border Patrol had their “hands tied” by the Obama administration.

"In the last administration where there were so many carve-outs that ICE agents and CBP members had to figure out each individual whether or not they fit in a particular category and they could adjudicate that case,” Spicer said Tuesday.

The Obama administration did encounter obstacles to deport undocumented immigrants after cities and counties refused to cooperate with immigration agents due to legal reasons as well as community policing issues.

However, by the time Obama left office last January he had deported a record 2.7 million undocumented immigrants, equivalent to 337,500 a year, or 937 a day.

Administration officials have said repeatedly that they are not planning “mass deportations." Trump on Friday told a gathering of conservatives that his focus continued to be criminals who entered the country illegally. "As we speak today, immigration officers are finding gang members, drug dealers and criminal aliens and throwing them the hell out,” he said.

But former immigration enforcement chiefs are questioning the legality of Trump's plan to ramp up deportation of suspected undocumented immigrants without appearing before a judge.

"Expedited removals" have been in force for 20 years but have only been used against people caught within 100 miles of the U.S.-Mexican border and who are alleged to have entered the country within the previous two weeks.

Under Trump’s plan that program is to be expanded nationwide for anyone who entered the country within the previous two years. Immigration experts argue that the Supreme Court has consistently held that even undocumented immigrants are entitled to due process.

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