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ICE deportations and arrests plunged in 2021, as the agency shifted its focus to detaining serious criminals.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which saw a decline in arrests and deportations during fiscal year 2021, was a result of the Biden administration's "new era". This directed officers to concentrate on the detention of immigrants with serious criminal convictions, government figures published Friday.

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ICE deportations and arrests plunged in 2021, as the agency shifted its focus to detaining serious criminals.

In fiscal year 2021, ICE deportation officers had arrested 74 082 immigrants. This is a 28% decrease from 2020 when arrests also dropped sharply due to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

According to historical ICE data, the agency conducted 59,011 deportations during fiscal year 2021. This is an all-time low. Fiscal year 2004 saw 175,106 deportations. This was the previous low.

The Biden administration's efforts in reshaping ICE and narrowing the number of immigrants agents should detain is largely responsible for the sharp decline in ICE deportations and arrests. Administrators also pointed out that the "complex environment" created by the pandemic played a part in limiting deportations and arrests.

According to current rules, ICE officers are authorized to detain illegal immigrants, those who have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally, as well as those deemed to be a national security threat, such a terrorist suspect. Officers are generally not allowed to arrest immigrants who have had clean records for more than a year.

The Biden administration generally prohibited ICE officers from holding victims of serious crimes or pregnant or nursing mothers. It also stopped worksite sweeps, as well as the long-term detention for migrant families with kids. ICE officials tried to put in place a 100-day moratorium on deportation during President Biden’s first week as president, but it was stopped by a Texas lawsuit.

Republicans strongly oppose the policy changes at ICE. They accuse the administration of not fully enforcing immigration law at a time where border arrivals are on the rise. Progressives also voiced dissatisfaction at officials' inability to further limit ICE detentions and arrests.

Friday's call was held with reporters by a senior ICE official, who requested anonymity to defend the administration's policies. He stated that fiscal year 2021 marked the beginning of a new era for ICE. According to the official, the agency is only able to hold immigrants who pose a threat to public safety using limited enforcement resources.

"We are focusing our attention on what we consider quality arrests," a senior ICE official stated during the call.

The number of immigrants convicted in ICE of "aggravated felonies," rose to 12,025 in 2021 from 6,815 in 2020. According to U.S. immigration law "aggravated felonies" refers to a wide range of serious and violent crimes like murder or rape.

In a Friday report, ICE stated that the combined 1,506 homicide-related offenses, 345 sexual assaults, 19,549 assailants, and 2,717 robberies were all convictions for immigrants detained by it in fiscal 2021.

ICE also noted a slight rise in "at-large" arrests. These are made during targeted operations in communities and not transfers from federal or state criminal custody. ICE recorded 25,993 arrests at-large in 2021, compared with 23,932 in 2020.

Nearly 500 of these arrests were made during an operation last summer targeting sex offenders. 80% of them had been convicted for crimes involving victimization of children, according to the ICE report.

Sixty-six per cent of the 59,000 immigrant deported in fiscal year 2018 had criminal records. This is an increase from 56% in 2020. Rest were mostly migrants who had been transferred from border custody. According to the agency, it also deported 2,718 suspected gang members as well as 34 suspected terrorists.

The total number of deportations does not include the 36,654 expulsions that ICE claimed it performed on behalf U.S. border officials in order to expel migrants who were subject to a Trump-era Pandemic Restriction known as Title 42.

Biden's administration also promised to reform the ICE detention network, which mainly consists a network of dozens country jails and for profit prisons with agency contracts.

The agency has stopped holding immigrants in two detention centers that were plagued with allegations of mistreatment, but has not taken public steps to fulfill Mr. Biden’s campaign promise to end for profit immigration detention.

Under Mr. Biden, ICE expanded "alternatives for detention" programs. These programs enable ICE to track migrants during deportation proceedings using ankle monitors and other GPS devices, without having to physically hold them in a center.

ICE data shows that more than 182,000 immigrants had been enrolled in alternative detention programs since late last month. Another 18,000 immigrants were also being held by the agency in detention facilities.

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