Government

Immigration arrests and deportations up in region

Despite the spike, numbers reported are on par with four years earlier

DES MOINES — Immigration arrests and deportations sharply increased during the past year in Iowa and neighboring states, federal figures show.

Those numbers are spiking under the heightened focus on enforcing U.S. immigration laws by President Donald Trump’s administration.

Nonetheless, they are on par with numbers reported four years earlier during the start of former President Barack Obama’s second term.

In the most recent one-yeer-perod, immigration arrests are up 67 percent and deportations up 55 percent in a five-state region that includes Iowa, according to the data.

“I can only speak for the Latino immigrants and the undocumented, and there is a lot of fear, a lot of apprehension and uncertainty,” Michael Reyes, the state director of Iowa’s chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said in an interview last year. “There are things that are happening now as a result of this current administration, and it’s got (immigrants living in the country without full legal status) in fear.”

After making immigration reform one of the staples of his campaign, Trump immediately instructed his administration to enforce the nation’s immigration laws more forcefully.

The administration said it would continue to prioritize immigrants in the country illegally who also had been convicted of other crimes, as did Obama’s administration.

But the Trump administration made clear it would not stop there.

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Approximately 11 million immigrants live in the United States without legal residency, according to the Pew Research Center.

“Anyone who is in the United States illegally is subject to deportation,” Trump said during a September 2016 campaign speech in Arizona.

Shortly after he took office, his administration began the work of enforcing the stronger immigration policy.

“Under this executive order, with extremely limited exceptions, (the federal Department of Homeland Security) will not exempt classes or categories of removal aliens from potential enforcement. All of those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to enforcement proceedings, up to and including removal from the United States,” reads a February 2017 department fact sheet. “The guidance makes clear, however, that (the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, or ICE) should prioritize several categories of removable aliens who have committed crimes, beginning with those convicted of a criminal offense.”

That focus has produced a significant increases in immigration arrests and deportations, according to federal data. Nationally, arrests are up 30 percent, although deportations nationally are down 6 percent, according to the data.

The federal immigration enforcement agency does not keep state-level data, but does track regional figures, a spokesman said. Iowa is included in an area that includes Minnesota, Nebraska and the Dakotas.

Deportations in the five-state area increased 55 percent, and immigration arrests jumped 67 percent, between the federal fiscal years 2016 and 2017 — or the period of time that began shortly before Trump was elected until September 2017.

Enforcement in the region did not focus on only immigrants with criminal histories. The number of deportations of illegal immigrants without a criminal conviction jumped 74 percent during the same period and the number of arrests nearly tripled.

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Immigration arrests and deportations in the five-state area had been decreasing between the fiscal 2013 to 2016 years, according to the data.

The spike brings the numbers roughly to the same level as fiscal 2013, a period that includes most of the first year of Obama’s second term.

In a recent report, a federal immigration official told the Washington Post the department and Trump administration simply was restoring he rule of law.

“What are we supposed to do?” Matthew Albence, the top official in the agency’s immigration enforcement division, told the Post. If the department did not uphold its duties and enforce immigration laws, he told the Post, “then the system has no integrity.”

Iowa immigrant advocacy groups are trying to track numbers in Iowa through an immigration enforcement hotline that was created in February 2017, a month after Trump took office.

According to the groups, in the past year 64 Iowa families have reported deportation, detention or surveillance by federal agents, and the targets have lived in Iowa from six months to 15 years.

Two beneficiaries of federal protections for immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally while they were children — or “Dreamers” — have been detained by federal authorities, the advocacy groups said.

More than four out of every five reported arrests took place early in the morning when immigrants were on their way to work, and federal agents have targeted a handful of Central Iowa Mexican restaurants, the advocacy groups said.

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“They’re in survival mode as it is,” Reyes said of the undocumented immigrants under threat of possible arrest or deportation. “They’re just trying to put food on the table and get their kids educated, but now the deportations are disrupting their families. (Federal agents) are splitting families up.”

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