Photo: Ross D. Franklin/AP

New data released by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency has revealed that arrests of undocumented immigrants with no criminal history are at an all time high, according to USA Today.

In December, only 63.5 percent of undocumented people arrested by ICE had a criminal record, the lowest number since the agency began keeping track of the data in 2012. This means that 36.5 percent of ICE arrests in December were of people who have committed no crime other than entering the country illegally.

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These numbers runs counter to the narrative, frequently pushed by President Trump, that immigration agencies are going after dangerous criminals.

“We’re wasting resources deporting a lot of people who are assets to their communities who have families and mortgages and careers and car notes, and we’re going after them with the same vigor that we’re going after kidnappers and murderers and bank robbers,” Douglas Rivlin, the communications director at immigrant advocate organization America’s Voice, told USA Today. “That’s not a smart approach to law enforcement.”

“One hundred percent of those arrested... are immigration violators,” Nathalie Asher, the acting executive associate director for ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations, told reporters today. 

The percentage of undocumented people with a criminal record arrested by ICE has dropped sharply since Trump took office. As recently as 2015, the number was nearly 90 percent. During Obama’s last month in office, the number was 82 percent.

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From USA Today:

ICE agents...have arrested an average of 4,219 undocumented immigrants without a criminal record each month of the Trump administration. In the final two years under Obama, the agents averaged 1,352 such arrests a month.

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Since taking office, Trump has worked to alter how immigration agencies work. Under Obama, ICE was told to not target undocumented individuals who happened to be in the same place as an immigrant with a criminal record. In 2017, Homeland Security issued a series of memos changing that policy.

“Department personnel have full authority to arrest or apprehend an alien whom an immigration officer has probable cause to believe is in violation of the immigration laws,” one of these memos read. “They also have full authority to initiate removal proceedings against any alien who is subject to removal under any provision of the (Immigration and Nationality Act).”

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In July 2017, then acting ICE director Thomas Homan openly celebrated the increasing numbers of non-criminal undocumented people the agency was arresting, saying they’d gone “from zero to 100.”

“No population is off the table,” he said. 

Despite this enthusiasm for arrests, ICE hasn’t managed to lock up as many people this year as they have in the past. Their arrest numbers dropped in December as part of a larger decline. Asher says this is because she’s been forced to reassign ICE agents to work with Customs and Border Protection in order to process asylum seekers on the border.

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Mother Jones suggests that this drop in arrests could also be due to lack of cooperation with the administration from progressive communities on the border.

“Sanctuary cities and counties are no longer sharing arrest information with ICE, forcing agents to find individual immigrants in their communities instead of picking them up at jails,” they write. “Those operations are far more resource intensive and reduce ICE’s overall efficiency.”