Removals Fell More than 70 Percent under Biden in FY 2021

Shockingly bad, and we don’t really know the worst of it

By Andrew R. Arthur on February 15, 2022

Preliminary numbers released by ICE reveal that removals fell more than 70 percent in FY 2021, even as Border Patrol apprehensions at the Southwest border reached all-time highs. Those numbers show that the Biden administration, which has fallaciously accused Donald Trump of “dismantl[ing] our nation's immigration system in its entirety", has itself taken a wrecking ball to immigration enforcement. These numbers are shocking, and we don’t even know the worst of it.

ICE Removals Fell by Nearly 80 Percent Since FY 2019. If you click on the first link above, it will take you to a spreadsheet captioned “ICE Detention Data, FY 2021 YTD”. “YTD” means “year to date” and given the fact that FY 2021 has been over for more than four months, these numbers should be close to final.

That spreadsheet reveals that in FY 2021, ICE removed 55,590 aliens from the United States.

To put that figure into context, consider that despite the various limitations and restrictions imposed on ICE by the Covid-19 pandemic, officers in the agency’s Enforcement and Removal (ERO) branch removed 185,884 aliens in FY 2020, which itself was a 30-percent decline from FY 2019, when 267,259 aliens were removed.

In other words, ICE removals in FY 2021 were more than 70 percent lower than they were in the prior fiscal year, and nearly 80 percent lower than they had been in FY 2019.

The Removal Numbers for FY 2021 Are Deceptively High. As bad as the FY 2021 removals number is, it is still deceptively high. We will have to wait until ICE ERO releases its FY 2021 report (which is nearly a month and a half overdue), but it appears that the only reason ICE was able to remove 55,590 aliens is because illegal migration at the Southwest border reached record levels.

Most of the aliens removed by ICE ERO were likely illegal migrants apprehended by Border Patrol agents, who were then handed over to ICE to deport in an act of bureaucratic bookkeeping legerdemain intended to deceive the uninformed.

Removals Lower than Under Trump, but Also Much Lower than Under Obama. Candidate Joe Biden eviscerated the prior administration for what it deemed its overzealous enforcement of the immigration laws, contending that: “Trump has waged an unrelenting assault on our values and our history as a nation of immigrants.”

Apparently, they are not teaching research in journalism schools these days, because most of the media have parroted this line without looking at the facts.

Take the following headline from BuzzFeed News five days before the inauguration: “The DHS Has Signed Unusual Agreements With States That Could Hamper Biden’s Future Immigration Policies: ‘This is just another last-ditch effort to try and ingrain a reckless hyper enforcement system,’ one legal expert said”.

That “legal expert’s” contention about “hyper enforcement” passed uncontested, but as I explained shortly after that piece appeared, immigration enforcement under the Trump administration was actually less vigorous than it had been under most of the Obama administration. Want proof?

Here is a figure showing the fiscal year totals for ICE removals of aliens from the interior, that is, of illegal aliens present in the United States who were arrested by ICE itself, as opposed to aliens who were only removed by ICE after they were apprehended by CBP at the border, under both Trump and Obama:

Interior Removals by Fiscal Year

Sources: Migration Policy Institute, “Deportation and Discretion: Reviewing the Record and Options for Change”, October 2014; ICE, “DHS releases end of year statistics”, December 18, 2014; ICE, “DHS Releases End of Fiscal Year 2015 Statistics”, December 22, 2015; ICE, “DHS Releases End of Year Fiscal Year 2016 Statistics”, December 30, 2016; “U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Fiscal Year 2019 Enforcement and Removal Operations Report”; and “U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Fiscal Year 2020 Enforcement and Removal Operations Report”.

As you can see, ICE interior removals were lower during every year of the Trump administration than they had been during every year of the Obama administration, save FY 2015 and FY 2016. That is because in FY 2015, the Obama administration restricted alien removals under the guise of “prioritizing” certain aliens for removal.

In other words, there was no ICE “hyper enforcement” under the Trump administration; rather, Trump just removed a few restrictions on ICE that were imposed at the end of the Obama administration.

The Biden administration’s restrictions on ICE enforcement have taken those Obama restrictions on ICE enforcement to a whole new level, as the most recent data shows. That is why the numbers on total ICE removals for FY 2021 — including, apparently, removals of aliens apprehended at the border by CBP — are so shocking.

We won’t really know how bad those numbers are, however, until the ICE ERO report comes out. That should include a breakdown of ICE removals from the interior vs. ICE removals of aliens caught by CBP at the border, but here is a figure comparing the most recent ICE removal numbers to total ICE removals under Obama and Trump:

Total ICE Removals by Fiscal Year

Sources: ICE, “FY 2016 ICE Immigration Removals”, “U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Fiscal Year 2019 Enforcement and Removal Operations Report” and “U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Fiscal Year 2020 Enforcement and Removal Operations Report”.

The Worst News Is Yet to Come. All of that said, there is other data in the most recent ICE release suggesting the final toll of the carnage that the Biden administration wreaked on immigration enforcement in FY 2021 will be truly appalling.

That spreadsheet reveals that ICE released nearly 10,000 convicted criminals it had apprehended in the United States in FY 2021: 1,873 on bond, 3,423 on orders of recognizance, 4,203 on orders of supervision, and 265 on parole.

Those aren’t mothers caught by officers dropping their kids off at school, or laborers in a Dickensian sweatshop picked up in an ICE raid. These are actual criminals who were released by the Biden administration.

When weighing these statistics, consider that on average in FY 2021 ICE detained fewer than 6,000 convicted criminals. And that the nearly 10,000 convicted criminals ICE released were just the ones that its officers were allowed to apprehend under the Biden administration’s harsh limitations on the agency. Under the most recent DHS guidance, ICE was ordered to leave most criminal aliens alone, and earlier iterations of that guidance were even worse.

Nor do those releases include the more than 6,500 aliens ICE let go in FY 2021 who had pending criminal charges. Adding the convicted criminals and the aliens with pending charges together, ICE released more than 16,100 aliens with criminal records last fiscal year.

In fact, on average, ICE was detaining just 414 non-criminal aliens monthly in FY 2021. In contrast, ICE released more than 127,000 aliens who were being held on immigration charges alone last fiscal year. That’s on top of the more than 164,500 illegal migrants CBP released at the border between March 21, 2021, and January 10, 2022.

That equals out to nearly 300,000 aliens and does not include 125,000-plus unaccompanied alien children who were apprehended at the border that DHS released to the Department of Health and Human Services, most for placement with “sponsors” in the United States. Also not accounted for are the estimated 400,000 illegal migrants who evaded Border Patrol and entered the United States.

It is likely with good reason that DHS has not released the ICE ERO Report for FY 2021 yet. The border is in utter chaos, while at the same time ICE removals have fallen more than 70 percent in just one fiscal year. Trump didn’t dismantle the nation’s immigration system any more than Obama did, but the Biden administration has taken a wrecking ball to any semblance of immigration enforcement.