Immigration arrests in Minnesota and surrounding states increased by two-thirds this past fiscal year under the Trump administration’s tougher enforcement approach. Meanwhile, deportations jumped by more than half, according to numbers released Tuesday.
The St. Paul office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested 4,175 people in Minnesota, the Dakotas, Nebraska and Iowa during the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. Of those detained, 73 percent had criminal convictions, compared with 87 percent of the immigrants the agency arrested the year before.
ICE released the statistics during a Washington, D.C., news conference, where officials touted stepped-up enforcement under new arrest and deportation priorities that make just about any immigrant in the country illegally fair game. Nationally, immigration arrests increased by roughly 30 percent in the past fiscal year and deportations declined slightly. That’s in part because significantly fewer people are caught crossing the southern border and deported directly — what administration officials deem key evidence their policies are working in deterring illegal immigration.
“We’ve got 20,000 employees that do their job very well,” said ICE’s Acting Director Thomas Homan, “and the numbers show they operated at perfection this year under the president’s mandates.”
Local immigrant advocates have decried the uptick in immigration detention and a harder line on enforcement that has ratcheted up anxiety in immigrant communities. Linus Chan at the University of Minnesota’s Detainee Rights Clinic noted a shift to arresting and deporting more people without criminal convictions locally and nationally.
“ ‘Criminal’ often doesn’t mean serious crimes,” he said. “It could mean driving without a license.”
Shortly after taking office, Trump broadened the Obama administration’s fairly narrow arrest and deportation priorities, under which immigration agents had largely focused on those with felonies or multiple misdemeanors as well as recent border crossers. Under Trump, authorities have detained more people they happened to encounter while looking for immigrants they targeted as well as more immigrants with pending criminal charges.
Homan said immigrants with criminal convictions, those who had flouted final deportation orders and deportees who returned to the United States illegally — a federal felony — remained a focus of his agency, accounting for 92 percent of all arrests nationally during the fiscal year. Yet, he stressed again, no one is exempt from arrest and removal.
“The officers are empowered to do their sworn duty and enforce the law as it was written,” Homan said.
Locally, the enforcement push was starker when looking at the numbers since January, when the Trump administration took over. From the start of the year through September, the St. Paul ICE office arrested about 3,400 people, a more than 70 percent increase over the same period last year.
As border crossings have declined this year, the interior of the country has come to account for more of the total arrests and deportations. Chan said those detentions and removals are more disruptive, in some cases involving longtime members of local communities.
“A shift to the interior will mean that no matter where people are living, the border is coming to us,” he said. “We will feel more and more like we’re living at the border.”