The Department of Homeland Security detained a remarkably large number of migrants in fiscal year 2013—440,557—but not as many as the record high reached the previous year. DHS, Immigration Enforcement Actions: 2013 Annual Report 6 (September 2014). Removals, meanwhile, increased to what the department calls an all-time high of 438,421. Id. People convicted of nothing more serious than an immigration offense continue to face removal in increasing numbers.
The number of migrants detained over the course of FY 2013 was 36,966 fewer than the 477,523 detained the previous year. To contextualize this eight percent drop, the FY 2012 figure marked a record number of people confined pursuant to civil immigration law. FY 2013’s reduced figure still towers over the earlier high-water mark: 429,247 in FY 2011. Indeed, the 2013 data fits neatly within a long-term trend of an enormous immigration detention population that occasionally dips while nonetheless growing over time.
In addition to reporting this important information about its detention operations, DHS also noted that it removed more migrants than ever before. While this is undoubtedly important, I’m most interested in its numbers on removed migrants with a prior criminal conviction. These individuals may have been removed on the basis of that conviction, but an immigration judge’s order is not required to fit within DHS’s definition of a “criminal alien.” It’s possible that DHS did not try to or failed to remove them on the basis of a conviction, but was successful in winning removal through another means—most likely the fact that a migrant lacked authorization to be present in the United States, though the report doesn’t say as much.
Of the 438,421 migrants removed in FY 2013, 198,394 had a prior conviction. Id. at 6 tbl 8. Removed individuals with a prior conviction therefore constitute 45% of the total number removed in FY 2013. This is a small drop from the 48% of migrants removed in FY 2012 who had a criminal conviction (200,143 of 418,397) and 49% of the migrants removed in FY 2012 who had a criminal conviction (188,964 of 387,134).
Migrants removed in FY 2013 with a prior conviction were mostly likely to have been convicted of an immigration, drug, traffic, or assault offense, in that order. Almost one-third (31.3% or 62,194) of convicted individuals were convicted of an immigration crime. Another 15.4% (30,603) were convicted of a drug offense, 15.0% (29,844) of a traffic crime, and 10.2% (20,181) convicted of assault. No other category reached double digits—or, for that matter, more than 2.8% of removed individuals with a prior conviction.
The percentage of migrants whose most serious conviction was for an immigration crime is particularly striking. As regular crImmigration.com readers are well aware, criminal prosecutions of illegal reentry and illegal entry, a federal felony and misdemeanor, respectively, have inundated the federal courts. Though both have been on the books since the 1920s, neither was prosecuted very frequently until the last few years. As the Obama Administration has won convictions ever-more frequently for these crimes—both of which essentially consist of entering the United States without the federal government’s permission—there have been more “criminal aliens” to remove on the basis of those convictions. And, as the chart below indicates, the Obama Administration appears interested in utilizing that power.
Whether this is making communities safer is an entirely separate point.
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