Florida Saw the Nation's Largest Spike in Immigrant Arrests in 2017

Florida Saw the Nation's Largest Spike in Immigrant Arrests in 2017
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement / Wikimedia Commons
New Times reported in December that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrests in Florida jumped more than 75 percent from 2016 to 2017, after Donald Trump took the presidency and effectively gave ICE agents carte blanche to arrest or deport whomever they want.

But other analysts have continued to churn that data: As it turns out, that 75 percent jump was the single-largest spike in ICE seizures in any area across the country last year, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center.

"After years of decline, the number of arrests made by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) climbed to a three-year high in fiscal 2017, according to data from the agency," Pew wrote today. "The biggest percentage increases were in Florida, northern Texas and Oklahoma."

Importantly, ICE sorts arrest data by "field offices," which oversee huge areas of the country. Miami's field office covers all of Florida, as well as Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. (Texas, California, and New York are the only states with multiple field offices. Other offices, such as Chicago, Salt Lake City, or St. Paul, oversee more than four or five states at a time.)

According to data ICE released last year (in a fancy, well-designed media package, no less), the agency arrested 6,192 immigrants within Miami's jurisdiction in 2017, up from 3,524 apprehensions the year before. (ICE also deported 7,082 people from the Miami office, up from 5,562 people in 2016.)

Florida did not have the largest total number of arrests — that dubious honor went to the Dallas field office, which handles north Texas and all of Oklahoma. Agents there seized 16,530 immigrants, while the neighboring Houston office seized 13,565 people. Miami's office came in 10th overall in terms of total apprehensions.
Pew Research Center
There's one other caveat here, which Pew also took care to note: No matter what Trump has done, his administration has not even come close to topping the historical peak in arrests and deportations of the Obama Administration. Obama was, famously, called "Deporter-in-Chief" during his tenure (the #Resistance seems to have forgotten this), and nationwide deportations under Trump haven't even reached half his peak.
Pew Research Center
That's still not a reason to celebrate. This data simply shows how easily ICE can ramp up its enforcement proceedings again at the drop of a hat. Pro-immigrant activists instead want to push the country toward almost zero deportations — when undocumented people are arrested for crimes, they get charged through the standard U.S. judicial system and potentially serve prison time, so activists maintain that deporting people afterward is a needless, secondary punishment doled out simply due to immigration status. (The U.S. deportation machine also singlehandedly created crime and gang problems in Latin America — the MS-13 gang originated in Los Angeles prisons before officials shipped gang members to countries such as El Salvador, where displaced people were forced to either band together or wander their new countries alone.)

ICE also spends a ton of time rounding up undocumented people who have been living in the U.S. for decades without committing any actual crimes. For what it's worth, the Obama administration directed ICE agents to stop focusing on noncriminal immigrants, but Trump has since reversed that decision and let ICE agents run wild.

Interestingly, Pew noted that ICE's sister agency, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, actually arrested fewer people in 2017.

"Recent immigration arrest patterns demonstrate a growing emphasis by federal authorities on interior enforcement efforts," Pew wrote. "While ICE arrests went up significantly between 2016 and 2017, arrests made by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) – the federal agency responsible for enforcing U.S. immigration laws on the border – have declined."

We've seen the result play out on TV, computer, and phone screens since January 2017. The American Civil Liberties Union has accused GEO Group, the Boca Raton-based private-prison giant, of torturing ICE detainees who speak out against prison abuse. ICE has held Somali detainees shackled on airplanes for 48 straight hours, while allegedly beating them, abusing them, and throwing them back in prison cells in the Miami area. ICE has shipped immigrant activists from New York City to Miami and then to Haiti. The agency has apprehended Florida parents, leaving children — U.S. citizens, no less — without parents.

Just yesterday, New Times reported that ICE's Miami office in Miramar forces immigrants to stand outside in the rain and heat for scheduled immigration check-ins — and while they wait, sometimes for hours on end, tow-truck companies patrol the area trying to make a quick buck off vulnerable people parked outside the overstuffed lots.
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.