Arrests, Detentions, and Removals, and Issues Related to Selected Populations
GAO-20-36: Published: Dec 5, 2019. Publicly Released: Dec 5, 2019.
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We reported on data and trends related to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) activities in 2015–2018.
Arrests, detentions, and removals increased overall
Males; aliens from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras; and convicted criminals made up the majority of ICE arrests and removals
Detentions of transgender, pregnant, and disabled individuals increased
However, data on detained parents or legal guardians of U.S. citizen or permanent resident minors is not collected in a readily available format, so we couldn’t report it. We recommended that ICE collect and make this data readily available, as required by ICE policy.
Bar graph showing removals, detentions, and administrative arrests from 2015-2018
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What GAO Found
The numbers of administrative arrests (arrests), detentions, and removals of aliens (people who are not citizens or nationals of the United States) by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) varied during calendar years 2015 through 2018, and increased overall for the period. Males, aliens from four countries—Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras—and convicted criminals accounted for the majority of ICE arrests and removals. The majority of detentions were made up of males, aliens from the same four countries, and non-criminals.
Enforcement and Removal Operations Administrative Arrests, Detentions, and Removals, Calendar Years 2015 through 2018
ICE has policies related to six of the selected populations GAO examined, including aliens who are: transgender, individuals with disabilities, individuals with mental disorders, juveniles, parents of minors, and pregnant. These policies provide guidance on identifying, detaining, caring for, and removing aliens in these populations. After issuance of the 2017 DHS memo, ICE removed language from its existing policies for individuals who are pregnant and parents of minors that it determined to be inconsistent with 2017 DHS memo.
Available ICE detention data show that detentions of transgender and pregnant individuals increased from calendar years 2016 to 2018 and detentions of individuals with disabilities increased from 2017 to 2018. Detentions at facilities staffed by ICE medical personnel of individuals with mental disorders and women who are nursing varied from calendar years 2015 to 2018. We found that ICE does not collect or maintain readily available data on detained parents or legal guardians of U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident minors, as required by ICE policy. Without such information, ICE headquarters officials cannot ensure that ICE officers are collecting and entering this information into the system as required by policy. ICE officials said they have considered actions to identify this population, but are no longer considering these actions as of October 2019. Maintaining these data in a readily available format could help ensure that ICE personnel identify, evaluate, and share information on this population.
Why GAO Did This Study
In January 2017, the President issued Executive Order 13768 that instructs the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to enforce U.S. immigration law against all removable individuals. In February 2017, the Secretary of DHS issued a memorandum (2017 DHS memo) establishing policy and providing guidance related to the Executive Order. Within DHS, ICE is responsible for providing safe confinement for detained aliens, including certain vulnerable populations.
GAO was asked to review ICE immigration enforcement priorities, including those for vulnerable populations. This report examines (1) ICE data on arrests, detentions, and removals from calendar years 2015 through 2018; (2) the policies in effect for selected populations and any changes ICE made to align these policies with the 2017 DHS memo; and (3) the extent to which ICE collects data on selected populations and what those data show.
GAO analyzed ICE data on arrests, detentions, and removals from calendars years 2015 through 2018; reviewed policies and documents on eight populations GAO selected based on ICE policies and input from organizations that represent various vulnerable populations; and interviewed agency officials.
What GAO Recommends
GAO is recommending that ICE collect readily available data on detained parents or guardians of U.S. citizen and legal permanent resident minors. DHS did not concur with the recommendation. GAO continues to believe this recommendation is valid as discussed in the report.
For more information, contact Gretta L. Goodwin at (202) 512-8777 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Recommendation for Executive Action
Comments: In November 2019, ICE DHS did not concur with this recommendation, stating that ICE did not have any requirement or need to aggregate data on detained parents or legal guardians of U.S. citizens and legal permanent resident minors and doing so would not better inform ICE's decision-making processes. In a May 2020 update, ICE noted that ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) officers continue to collect and maintain information in EARM and EAGLE regarding whether an alien is a parent, or legal guardian, of a U.S.-born citizen or legal permanent resident minor for actions specific to individual cases; and that this case-specific information is readily available to approved EARM users, including Child Welfare Coordinators. However, as we noted in our report, these data are not readily available because ICE's data on family relationships, including parents or legal guardians of U.S. citizens and legal permanent resident minors, can only be accessed by manually reviewing each separate case file in EARM. Further, ICE's policy states that in pursing the enforcement of U.S. immigration laws against parents of minors, ICE personnel should remain cognizant of the impact enforcement actions may have on U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident minors. Without making these data readily available, ICE is not able to account for the overall impact of its enforcement actions on U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident minors whose parents or legal guardians have been detained. In its May 2020 update, ICE also noted that ERO provided Congress with the report, "Deportation of Parents of U.S.-Born Children," incorporating the first half of calendar year 2019, in April 2020. However, as we noted in our report, to generate this semi-annual required report to Congress on removals of parents of U.S.-born citizen children, ICE must review this information manually. Also, there is no similar requirement to report in an aggregate way on parents of U.S. citizen or legal permanent residents who are detained. We continue to believe that collecting and maintaining information in a readily available format on detained parents or legal guardians of U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident minors could help ensure that ICE personnel can identify, evaluate, and share information on this population, as required by ICE policy.
Recommendation: The Director of ICE should implement a process to collect and maintain data in a readily available format on detained parents or legal guardians of U.S. citizen and legal permanent resident minors to ensure that information on this population is entered into ICE's data system as required by policy. (Recommendation 1)
Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement