The United States ended the fiscal year with an immigration paradox — the government deported fewer illegal immigrants even as it ramped up enforcement efforts.
Acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director Thomas Homan told reporters Tuesday that tighter enforcement at the border is the reason for the lower numbers.
“Overall removals are down because the border’s under better control than it has been in 45 years,” he said. “That’s a good story.”
Homan spoke at a news conference to discuss end-of-the-year reports issued by the federal government’s immigration agencies. U.S. Border Patrol officials detailed figures showing a five-year low in illegal border crossings.
The total number of removals for the fiscal year that ended September 30, 226,199, was down from 240,225 the year before. But ICE arrests in the interior of the country increased 25 percent, from 65,332 to 81,603. The increase in the period since Trump has been president is 37 percent.
As a share of all removals, those from the interior increased from 27 percent to 36 percent.
The number of people arrested solely for immigration violations increased 40 percent to 143,470 in fiscal year 2017. Homan said 110,568 of those arrests occurred after Trump took office.
Of those arrested, 32,958 had criminal records. ICE officers also apprehended 4,818 gang members — including 796 from the notoriously violent MS-13 gang — and seized 2,370 pounds of fentanyl and more than 7,000 pounds of heroin.
Homan praised ICE’s work, which he noted occurred against a backdrop of hundreds of jurisdictions that have adopted “sanctuary” policies dictating varying levels of noncooperation with federal immigration authorities.
Homan called on Congress to give his officers more resources to do their jobs and to “address misguided loopholes” that make their jobs harder.
“While we have made great progress and achieved a great deal this year, we understand there is much to be done,” he said.
Homan touted other areas of immigration enforcement. He said the number of countries labeled as not cooperating in taking back their citizens who are in U.S. deportation proceedings has declined from 24 to 12 — and is now nine. He said the number of countries in danger of such a designation also declined — from 47 to 36.