Deportation orders have surged since Attorney General Jeff Sessions took office, rising almost 28 percent from February through July compared with the same period last year, according to statistics released this week.
Immigration judges, who work for the Justice Department, issued 49,983 removal orders, up 27.8 percent from the same six-month period in 2016. Including voluntary departures, in which illegal immigrants agree to leave the country at their own expense, the total number was 57,069 — a 30.9 percent increase.
Immigration courts overall have also been more productive, with judges issuing 73,127 final decisions. That represents a 14.5 percent increase over the 63,850 dispositions last year at this time.
“They’re completing more cases,” said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies. “They’re ordering more people removed. They’re getting things done.”
Advocates of more aggressive immigration enforcement cheered the statistics.
“Great news,” said Joseph Guzzardi, a spokesman for Californians for Population Stabilization. “I mean, I think that’s one of the missions that President Trump promised to fulfill.”
Even as deportation orders are on the rise, however, Politico cited Immigration and Customs Enforcement data in reporting that the pace of actual deportations is on track to be slower than during former President Barack Obama’s administration.
Eric Ruark, director of research at NumbersUSA, explained LifeZette that this highlights the need to fully staff political positions through the Department of Homeland Security.
“They’ve had trouble getting people in key positions to carry out policies,” he said.
Andrew “Art” Arthur, who was associate general counsel of the Immigration and Naturalization Service from 1999 to 2001 and served eight years as an immigration judge, said the increases in removal orders appear to be the result of a combination of increased manpower and policy changes.
[lz_table title=”Immigration Courts” source=”Executive Office of Immigration Review”]February through July
Removal orders,39 113,49 983
Total removal*,43 595,57 069
Relief grants,20 255,16 058
Final decisions,63 850,73 127
*Includes voluntary removals
Arthur, now resident fellow in law and policy at the Center for Immigration Studies, noted that the Justice Department has hired an additional 54 immigration judges since Trump took office. He said the Department of Homeland Security also has granted fewer “administrative closures.”
Data from Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse show that the Trump administration used prosecutorial discretion to drop fewer than 100 cases a month during the first five months, compared with an average of about 2,400 cases a month during the comparable period last year.
“If you came here to work and you can’t work, you’re not going to stick around.”
Arthur said that figure reflects Obama’s policy of not pursuing deportation against illegal immigrants who had been in America since before Jan. 1, 2014, and had not committed a serious crime.
“Trump undid that policy decision,” he said.
Arthur said voluntary departures are up because of the broader enforcement priorities and because the Trump administration is making wider use of detention. Most illegal immigrants sitting in jail will choose to go home rather than fight deportation, he said.
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“If you came here to work and you can’t work, you’re not going to stick around,” he said.
The Justice Department data also suggest that immigration judges have become stingier in granting relief to immigrants facing deportation. That relief can range from granting asylum claims to determining that an immigrant is not removable. Judges can also use discretion to cancel removal, for instance, in a case in which a legal immigrant has committed a crime but whose deportation would cause a hardship for family members.
In the six-month period in 2016, judges granted relief to 20,255 immigrants, which represented 31.7 percent of orders. The number this year is 16,058, or 22 percent.
Arthur said the change might be due, in part, to evolving law on assessing asylum claims. He said judges also might be aligning their rulings with new administration policies.
“That does suggest a different attitude by the court to relief claims,” he said.