Immigration arrests in Utah and surrounding states are up 32%, but growing number of detainees are not criminals

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Ariana Juarez, 2, joins a protest on May 3, 2017 after her mother was detained by ICE agents and taken to an undisclosed location.

Since President Donald Trump ordered stricter immigration enforcement against all undocumented people two years ago, arrests by the Salt Lake City office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement are up by 32%.

But fewer detainees are criminals — those who had been the target of enforcement during previous administrations, according to new data from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), a research arm of Congress.

The GAO looked at enforcement nationally since the Trump administration ordered changes and included some data from the Salt Lake office of ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations, which is responsible for Utah, Nevada, Idaho and Montana.

In 2016 — the year before Trump ordered enforcement changes — the Salt Lake office made 4,404 arrests. That increased to 5,379 in 2017, and 5,811 in 2018.

Meanwhile, the percentage of people it arrested who had been convicted of crimes dropped. That percentage fell from 94% in 2016 to 76% in 2018.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Before 2017, ICE policy gave its top priority to arresting those here illegally who had committed serious crimes.

That changed in January 2017, when Trump issued an executive order to widen the net. It said no undocumented people are exempt from enforcement, except for some who were brought to the United States as children by undocumented parents.

ICE’s enforcement top priorities expanded to include those convicted of, or who could be charged with, any criminal offense (which critics said included traffic violations); those who committed “willful misrepresentation” to any government office (such as using false Social Security information for paychecks); and those who abused public benefits.

The Department of Homeland Security also ordered hiring an extra 10,000 officers to help implement the changes.

The GAO reported that arrests nationally jumped from 112,870 in 2015 to 151,497 in 2018, up 34%.

It also reported that the groups accounting for the most arrests and removals were still criminals, males and people from four countries: Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

Amid increasing arrests, ICE plans to build a new detention facility to hold up to 1,000 prisoners who face action in the West Valley City immigration court — but that private-company jail is likely to be built 83 miles away in Evanston, where local officials welcome it to create more jobs.

Immigration attorneys say that when the Utah County jail in recent years ended its contract to hold ICE detainees, the agency started moving them out of state — and many have been sent to Nevada and Colorado, making it difficult for local attorneys or family to visit.

The GAO also found that ICE does not collect or keep easily available data on detained parents of children who are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents, which it said is required by its policy.

It recommended that ICE start gathering that data and making it available, but the agency disagreed.

Agency officials said they tracks enough information already to help assist with such things as arranging care for children. They added that being a parent by itself does not necessitate any special health screening or placement consideration as it does with some other groups that it tracks, including pregnant or nursing women, the disabled, those with mental disorders, and those who are LGBTQ.

Of note, the Pew Research Center earlier this year estimated that 110,000 undocumented immigrants now live in Utah — up by 10,000 in the past decade.

It estimates the number of legally authorized immigrants in the United States at 10.5 million, the lowest since 2004.