The number of immigrants deported by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in the Salt Lake region more than doubled this fiscal year, according to statistics released by the agency Tuesday.
The region — which includes Utah, Nevada, Idaho and Montana — saw 5,177 arrests of immigrants suspected of being undocumented and 3,550 deportations in the 2017 fiscal year. In the previous year, there were 4,638 arrests and 1,731 deportations.
Nationwide, arrests are up, but border arrests are down, the ICE data shows. Across the nation, 92 percent of the people detained for immigration violations were “removable aliens who had a criminal conviction or a pending criminal charge, were an ICE fugitive, or were an illegal re-entrant.”
Carl Rusnok, regional spokesman for ICE, said “the majority” of the immigrants arrested based on immigration violations also had criminal convictions.
The numbers are evidence of the success agents have had following new policies implemented by the Trump administration. In live and telephonic news conferences Tuesday, federal officials expressed satisfaction with the way the policy change has affected their officers.
Because of Obama-era policies, ICE Deputy Director Thomas Homan said, officers for the past several years “couldn’t enforce the law the way it was written.”
Undocumented immigrants are a threat to public safety, Homan said. When undocumented people come to the United States and find success, it’s as if they’re being rewarded for breaking the rules, he said. There are now “consequences and deterrence” for people who break laws.
“There is no free pass here,” Homan said.
Homan also criticized so-called “sanctuary cities,” which refuse to work with ICE by holding inmates with detainers. Those city’s police departments endanger the ICE officers tasked with apprehending undocumented immigrants, put lives at risk and “entice further illegal entry,” Homan said, and.
Salt lake City does not consider itself a sanctuary city, but earlier this year, it joined in filing a friend-of-the-court brief against an executive order targeting sanctuary cities/the communities. Additionally, Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown has said that President Donald Trump’s message on immigration is concerning to local officers, in part, because it makes victims of crime afraid to come forward.
At Tuesday’s news conference, Homan said he’s tired of politicians who prioritize “politics above public safety.”
But local activist Mayra Cedano says that those celebrating the higher numbers of immigrant arrests and deportations are ignoring “the damage this has caused.”
When one person is detained by ICE, she says, it affects entire families and has a negative psychological effect on children. ICE’s policies have incited fear among immigrants, said Cedano, who works as the community engagement program manager for Comunidades Unidas (CU), a Salt Lake City-based resource for Latinos.
“It’s unbelievable that they could actually feel proud of separating families,” Cedano said of ICE officials.
Leaders in law enforcement acknowledged that there are people who come to the United States with a legitimate need for refuge, but they are lumped into the immigration system with people who shouldn’t be here, Homan said.
He said many immigrants “play the system” and waste tax dollars by disputing court orders for removal.
Cedano disagreed with the characterization, saying “with or without documents, everyone has rights.”
One of the ways CU serves the immigrant community is by connecting people with affordable and trustworthy attorneys, many of whom specialize in deportation defense, Cedano said.
“It’s definitely fair for the people being detained — and all immigrants — to fight for their rights and to see if they qualify for an immigration benefit,” Cedano said. Many times, there may not be a legal reason to keep immigrants in the United States, she said, and immigrants understand that.
In Utah this year, there have been multiple deportation cases that have caught the public’s attention. One mother who was the sole caretaker of a young adult son with special needs was deported to Colombia in April. Another mother with four young children is scheduled for deportation to Guatemala in late December.
Additionally, local undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children — many of whom are able to work and attend school legally through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which will expire in March — are in the public eye, calling for immigration reform.
Still, ICE officials say that increased enforcement is the right approach to immigration issues.
They anxiously await a decision from Congress, to grant an increased budget for additional officers and greater security along the southern border — including additional sections of a border wall.
“Our job is to enforce immigration law, and that’s what we’re going to do,” Homan said.