SAN DIEGO — Border arrests in San Diego and along the rest of the U.S.-Mexico boundary fell to a record low during the recently ended fiscal year spanning the Obama and Trump presidencies, but arrests and deportations away from the border rose sharply this calendar year, reflecting the current administration’s emphasis on removing both criminal and non-criminal undocumented immigrants from the country, Department of Homeland Security officials said Tuesday.
In the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, 2016, and ended Sept. 30, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers made 310,531 arrests. About 304,000 of those arrests — around 98 percent — were made at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The number of arrests decreased 23.7 percent from the prior fiscal year and marked the fewest number of border arrests on record, according to DHS data.
Also during the last fiscal year, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and Removal Operations agents made 143,470 arrests and 226,119 removals and deportations, DHS authorities said. The removal numbers are higher than arrest numbers because ICE agents are also responsible for removing those arrested by Border Patrol officers.
The number of interior removals — people deported after being arrested away from the border — jumped 25 percent to 81,603 from 65,332 the previous year. They rose 37 percent since President Donald Trump’s inauguration compared to the same period a year earlier.
Locally in the San Diego Area of Responsibility, ICE and ERO handled 16,554 removals in the first nine months of the fiscal year, which was the third highest in the country, just behind the El Paso Area of Responsibility (17,273) but well behind the San Antonio Area of Responsibility (43,366).
But ICE arrests in the San Diego area — a truer indicator of ICE operations because they do not count removals of those arrested at the border — lagged far behind many other cities. San Diego-area ICE agents made 3,174 arrests in the first nine months of the fiscal year, putting San Diego behind Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, San Antonio and San Francisco in terms of ICE arrests.
A DHS statement says the statistics in part underscore “the need for a physical barrier at the border.”
“We have clearly seen the successful results of the president’s commitment to supporting the front-line officers and agents of DHS as they enforce the law and secure our borders,” Acting DHS Secretary Elaine Duke said. “We have an obligation to uphold the integrity of our immigration system, but we must do more to step up and close loopholes to protect the American worker, our economy, and our communities.”
Hiram Soto, communications director for the social-justice organization Alliance San Diego, said the record-low number of border arrests shows that spending billions of taxpayer dollars on a border wall is a “misguided and unjustified” pursuit that “doesn’t make any sense.”
“That money could be used for more important things, inside the (Border Patrol) even, like more transparency and investigative personnel to look into corrupt Border Patrol officers,” Soto told City News Service. “CBP is a notoriously opaque agency.”
The most significant change in immigration enforcement under Trump came in the interior of the country, where ICE and Removal Operations arrests were up 30 percent over the previous year, according to DHS data. Those arrests targeted both criminals and non-criminals, reflecting a change from the Obama- era mandate to focus on deporting criminal aliens.
“The executive orders issued by President Trump in January 2017 strongly emphasized the role of interior enforcement in protecting national security and public safety, and upholding the rule of law,” the DHS statement says. “By making clear that no category of removable aliens would be exempt from enforcement, the directives also expanded enforcement priorities for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.”
Soto criticized ICE arrests as “another part of the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant policies,” especially those targeting non- criminals.
“These arrests separate families,” Soto said. “Behind these numbers are people, are families. Nobody wins when you separate a mom or dad from their kids. We need to look at the moral perspective, what type of country we are and what type of country we want to be.”
The increase in ICE arrests was even more stark in the months after Trump took office on Jan. 20. From that date until the end of September, ICE and Removal Operations agents made more than 110,500 arrests compared to 77,806 during the same period in fiscal year 2016, an increase of 40 percent.
In San Diego, there were 3,174 ICE arrests away from the border in the first nine months of the fiscal year. That put the area on pace for 4,232 total arrests, which would outnumber the 3,683 arrests made in the previous fiscal year.