Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly defended the uptick in immigration arrests by his agents with colorful language in an interview with FOX News Friday morning.
“Seventy-five percent of the people that the great men and women of ICE have taken into custody, 75% are criminals. The other 25% are not innocent; they are multiple deportees, they are people who have been fleeing from the law, they are fugitives. But they are not necessarily convicted criminals,” Kelly said. Seventy-five percent are indeed criminals. The other 25% are not the valedictorians of their high school class.”
Kelly’s phrasing aside, his figures square with the latest numbers out from Immigration and Customs Enforcement. In the first 100 days of the Trump administration: 41,318 immigrants were arrested. Of that total, 30,473 had criminal convictions, ranging from homicide and assault to sexual abuse and drug-related charges. That amounts to roughly percent 74%.
The other quarter of the total, numbering 10,845, have no criminal convictions and could have been arrested, as Kelly said, for reasons including multiple illegal re-entries into the country and refusing to check in with ICE officials.
They also could have been arrested for baseline immigration law violations: crossing the border illegally or overstaying a visa.
Memos put out by the Trump administration in his first weeks in office adjusted priorities for immigration enforcement officers, enabling them to arrest more broadly — virtually every undocumented immigrant in the US entering the purview.
With some specific exceptions, including DACA recipients, “the Department no longer will exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement,” the memo reads.
DHS did not respond to a request to expand on the secretary’s “valedictorians” comment.
While Kelly told NBC’s “Meet the Press” earlier this year that “illegally doesn’t necessarily get you targeted, it’s got to be something else,” ICE does not only arrest immigrants that they specifically target.
Individuals encountered in the course of priority or target arrests can also be arrested and subject to deportation, ICE has said.
Violators of immigration law who don’t have a criminal record can too be targeted for arrest under certain circumstances. Many of the priority non-criminal offenders arrested are so-called “arriving aliens,” who have recently crossed the border illegally, according to ICE figures.
ICE’s top priorities for arrests remain immigrants who they say pose a national security threat or those with multiple, violent convictions.
Under his broader policy, immigration arrests in Trump’s first 100 days constituted a significant increase from a similar period of time in the previous year, under Barack Obama. Non-criminal arrests comprised the bulk of that increase.
Between January 20 and April 29, 2016, 31,128 immigrants were arrested, nearly 86% of which had criminal convictions.
Last year’s figures, however, do not tell the whole story. Obama, once referred to by critics as the “deporter in chief,” had even higher immigration arrest figures than Trump earlier in his administration, before he reformed his own policy in part through executive action.
From January 20 to April 29, 2014, Obama’s ICE arrested 54,584 immigrants, with a 73%-27% breakdown of criminal versus non-criminal offenders.