SAN DIEGO (AP) — On immigration enforcement, the Trump administration is eager to show that it is getting the "bad dudes" out, the "really bad ones," as the president vowed to do.
So when immigration officials came forward Tuesday to produce statistics showing an aggressive arrest record, they were eager to demonstrate that they're giving priority to serious criminals, not just those whose only crime is being in the country illegally.
Although more criminals have been arrested, many more without such records are being picked up. What is apparent is that immigration arrests are up across the board and fewer people are trying to get into the country illegally.
Thomas Homan, deputy director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, addressed the subject at a news conference.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection Acting Deputy Commissioner Ronald Vitiello, left, accompanied by Acting Director for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Thomas Homan, right, speaks at a Department of Homeland Security news conference at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017, to announce end-of-year numbers regarding immigration enforcement. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
HOMAN: "I've read a lot of stories and comments over the past several months falsely accusing ICE of conducting indiscriminate raids and sweeps, arresting people at churches, arresting people at hospitals. I've repeatedly said that is false. We conduct targeted enforcement operations. Every person we arrest we know exactly who we're going to arrest and where we're going to arrest them. ... For those who say ICE no longer prioritizes criminals, fact: We arrested more criminals this year than we did last year."
THE FACTS: True, more criminals were arrested than last year, but that's not the full story.
ICE says 105,736 of the people arrested had criminal convictions, up 12 percent from 94,751 a year earlier. But arrests of non-criminals rose at a much faster clip, nearly doubling to 37,734 from 19,683.
Graphic shows arrest and removal statistics for people in the U.S. illegally
In February, then-Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly scrapped the previous administration's instructions to limit deportations to public safety threats, convicted criminals and recent border crossers, effectively making anyone vulnerable who is in the country illegally.
Matthew Albence, ICE's director of enforcement and removal operations, said the increase in non-criminals comes from people who were spared from deportation under President Barack Obama's narrower guidelines when arrested and booked in local jails. Now immigration authorities are seeking to deport them, even if they aren't prosecuted or convicted.
While 74 percent of the arrests reported Tuesday were of people with criminal convictions, that's down from 83 percent during the final year under Obama. And the group included many convicted of immigration offenses; immigration ranked as the third-highest conviction behind driving under the influence and offenses involving "dangerous drugs."
It's clear that non-criminals have reason to worry. Homan said as much Tuesday: "There's no population off the table. If you're in the country illegally, we're looking for you and we're going to apprehend you."