The first few months of Donald Trump’s presidency have seen a dramatic jump in the number of arrests made by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency—an alarming confirmation of the administration’s efforts to target undocumented immigrant communities.
According to government numbers provided to the Washington Post, ICE made 21,362 arrests between January and mid-March of this year. 5,441 of them involved undocumented immigrants with no criminal record, more than doubling the number of non-criminal arrests made during the same period last year. All told, the Post reports, there has been a 32.6% spike in ICE arrests compared to the first months of 2016. There has also been a 75% spike in detainers requested by ICE to local law enforcement holding arrested immigrants.
While the Post notes that the total arrests thus far for this year are lower than the 29,238 undocumented immigrants arrested during the opening months of 2014 under President Barack Obama—who currently holds the record for most deportations of any U.S. president in history—it’s important to see these early numbers as part of a larger whole. In the context of Trump’s (legally dubious) travel bans, oft-promised border wall, and pattern of bigoted rhetoric against immigrants, the spike in arrest represents a part of a broad effort to marginalize and criminalize immigrants.
Earlier this month, ex-ICE boss John Sandweg, who served as the agency’s acting director from 2013-2014, criticized Trump’s newly unleashed immigration authorities, telling WNYC’s The Takeaway that the administration targets “the lowest hanging fruit because they can be deported, they’ve been caught the quickest, deported the fastest. Forget about whether they’re criminals or not.”
The effect of Trump’s policy is already starting to be felt on the ground.
“My sense is that ICE is emboldened in a way that I have never seen,” King’s County, WA, prosecutor Dan Satterberg told the Post. “The federal government, in really just a couple of months, has undone decades of work that we have done to build this trust.”