Arrests of Undocumented Florida Immigrants Have Spiked by 75 Percent Under Trump

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
It wasn't just media hype: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents really did ramp up their enforcement efforts during Donald Trump's first year in office. According to year-end figures ICE released yesterday, the agency arrested 6,192 immigrants in Florida, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands this year — a 75 percent jump from last year, in which only 3,524 people were apprehended.

That's 75 percent more people ripped from their families. That's thousands more people kicked out of the country no matter how long they've lived here. That's more than 2,500 additional immigrants held in terrifying conditions in privately run ICE detention centers. (The American Civil Liberties Union warned earlier this year that ICE agents in an Arizona detention center run by Boca Raton's GEO Group appear to be torturing detainees, for example.)

ICE's Miami Field Office also deported 7,082 people, up 27 percent (from 5,562) in 2016.

There is one catch: As horrible as the latest numbers from ICE's might seem, they're actually far from Barack Obama's deportation peak: ICE reportedly arrested more than 10,000 people each year in Florida from 2009 through 2013. In 2011 and 2012, the agency apprehended more than 15,000 people in both years. 

But that's hardly good news: Obama was labeled a "deporter-in-chief" by many immigrant activists, and for good reason: He ramped up immigration enforcement to previously unseen levels and, according to an analysis by ABC News, deported 2.5 million immigrants — more people than each of his predecessors combined. As other news outlets have noted, those numbers show just how easy it would be for the Trump administration to ramp up enforcement actions once more.

In total, ICE arrested 143,470 undocumented immigrants nationally, compared to 110,104 last year.

Throughout 2017, immigrant activists have warned that ICE has simply been meaner than it's been in years past: Leaked emails show former Homeland Security chief (and current White House chief of staff) John Kelly ordering ICE to portray undocumented immigrants as criminals (they aren't) in order to justify a slew of predawn raids this year. The emails were meant to downplay the fact that the agency has been going after people who haven't committed crimes.

After severe criticism, President Obama eventually ordered ICE to lay off deporting undocumented people who hadn't committed crimes and to instead concentrate on people arrested for violent felonies. In a January executive order, Trump reversed that decision. The Washington Post later reported that arrests of noncriminals had doubled by August. Deportation police were caught camping out at courthouses 900 percent more often to capture unsuspecting people.

In the meantime, noncriminals such as Arizona's Guadalupe García De Rayos (who had lived in the States since she was 14) were deported. Immigrants in so-called sanctuary cities were targeted for deportation raids as an extremely transparent fuck-you from ICE to city governments that refused to cooperate with Trump.

But Miami-Dade wasn't in that group: In January, county Mayor Carlos Gimenez infamously became the first big-city mayor to comply with Trump's sanctuary-city crackdown.

Sanctuary cities simply refuse to report arrested immigrants to ICE. Despite the way conservative media portrays sanctuaries, the cities indeed arrest and prosecute people — just without helping ICE deport them.

Gimenez was the subject of immediate protests, a hunger strike, and, ultimately, an ACLU lawsuit after the civil rights organization said Miami officials illegally held a U.S. citizen overnight in jail after ICE mistakenly demanded he be detained.
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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.