TRAC Answers and I Respond

By Dan Cadman on November 14, 2017

I recently wrote about the Transactional Records Action Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University, "TRAC, Once Again Cutting Sign in the Wrong Direction".

It's one of several posts I've written about TRAC in the past few years, and in it I made the point that I believe that their philosophical biases sometimes infect their interpretation of the statistics they so laboriously gather.

TRAC responded to this one, as follows:

We are delighted to be credited by the Center with our "tenacity in obtaining statistics and airing them for public view and examination." We recently published a report, along with web query tools providing free access to detailed information, on the declining number of deportation filings in Immigration Court since President Trump assumed office. The Center suggests that "[t]here are a number of extremely reasonable, and quite probable, bases that explain such a decline," and suggests that these other avenues are seeing an increase in deportations. Although, CIS does not present any actual data that would support their speculations, they do criticize TRAC for our alleged "philosophical bent" or bias in failing to acknowledge these.

Rather than ignoring these possible explanations, TRAC actively pursues and publishes data that track what is actually occurring and available data do not support CIS's speculations.

Speculation A: Reinstatement of removals that by-pass the Immigration Court could be increasing. TRAC publishes online tools that allow the public to examine month-by-month all ICE removals by type of removal, including reinstatements of removals. While we are having increasing difficulty in obtaining much of the data that we were routinely receiving in the past, the data we have now actually show reinstatements of removals have been declining under the Trump Administration. Our latest data available to the public through our online tools, tracking each ICE removal through the end of June 2017. See selection "Current Deportation Type" at

Speculation B: Increased criminal prosecutions may result in deportations that by-pass the Immigration Court. For decades TRAC has compiled and published extensive data tracking all federal prosecutions. Our latest criminal data is updated through August 2017. The data show that criminal prosecutions for immigration offenses are also down by 18.1% from a year ago. See

I'm not going to respond in this blog in detail to the items regarding my "speculations", as TRAC would categorize them, other than to observe that TRAC appears to have cherry-picked only two of the variety of observations I made, and also to note that, while TRAC's collation of immigration-related criminal prosecutions does in fact reflect the most frequently used federal offenses, it is far from complete.

Of more relevance to me is what I believe to be the philosophical filter — bias, if you will — through which TRAC views the statistics, a bias they deny, as is evident above.

Yet, ironically, at the same time they were responding to my blog, they were also publishing a report on the recently revived Secure Communities program that was shut down during the Obama administration, and which is still trying to regain some of the traction that it had gained before being shuttered.

The report was, needless to say, harshly critical of the program and of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency that administers the program, which TRAC erroneously refers to as a "surveillance" program. That is not the only thing that bothers me about the report. Take for instance, this section:

A surprisingly small number of ICE Secure Communities removals can be seen to have involved such detainers. This has been true since the inception of the Secure Communities program. Compared to total ICE removals the Secure Communities removals are even less significant.

It is not the case that too few detainers were issued. An earlier TRAC report documents that ICE has prepared over two million detainers, although some of these could have been based upon something other than a fingerprint match. What is shown is how few of these detainers actually lead to an actual deportation

One might easily derive from this that there is some kind of discreditable disconnect between Secure Communities and the use of detainers that should be laid at the doorstep of ICE. Or perhaps that there is something misleading about the program because of the disconnect.

There is, in fact, a disconnect — but it has to do with the shocking number of state and local law enforcement agencies that refuse to honor ICE detainers because they are sanctuary jurisdictions. It stands to reason, though, that ICE would continue to file detainers in those locales, even though they realize they won't be honored, because it is one of the few ways of establishing concretely that those jurisdictions are sanctuaries that decline to cooperate in federal immigration enforcement efforts. It also provides proof positive that ICE tried to do the right thing when alien criminals who are released by state or local law enforcement despite the detainer go on to commit heinous crimes.

Beyond these few comments, I will not delve into the specifics of TRAC's Secure Communities report here and now; it's beyond the purview of this post, although it merits serious examination at some juncture. The point is that TRAC trades in just enough procedural information on how things work to allow it to construe and present the realities of immigration enforcement in our nation today in the most unflattering way possible.

So the question I would pose to TRAC is this: When in the not-too-distant past, or ever for that matter, have you written a salutary report on immigration enforcement efforts? Please don't say that it's not your job, because if you do, then clearly my response is that it's also not your job to act as critic either. Present the statistics and let them speak for themselves.

To paraphrase the immortal Sergeant Friday, "All we want are the stats, ma'am".