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ICE Report Reflects ‘Measurable Success’ in Felon Arrests After Shifting Enforcement Priorities

In FY 2021, ERO conducted a total of 74,082 administrative arrests of noncitizens. Approximately 49 percent of all arrests were of convicted criminals.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers nearly doubled the number of felons arrested after the Department of Homeland Security shifted the agency’s enforcement priorities to concentrate personnel and resources more on individuals determined to pose a threat to national security or public safety, ICE said in its annual report.

“Throughout FY 2021, ICE focused on its core missions: disrupting and dismantling transnational criminal organizations; arresting and removing threats to national security, public safety, and border security; representing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in immigration court; and supporting Southwest Border operations that are fair, orderly, and humane,” Acting Director Tae Johnson said in the report’s introduction. “ICE has carried out these missions, achieving notable operational successes and much-needed reforms amid a global pandemic and shifting, dynamic threats to the homeland.”

“While maintaining mission focus, ICE also undertook key policy and operational changes. Of singular importance, ICE’s Office of Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) rebalanced its approach to civil immigration enforcement following a series of memoranda dated January 20, 2021, February 18, 2021, and September 30, 2021,” he continued. “Together, these memoranda refocused the agency’s civil immigration enforcement efforts on the greatest threats to national security, public safety, and border security, while empowering career law enforcement officials in the field to make discretionary decisions about which noncitizens to arrest, detain, and remove. On May 27, 2021, the Office of the Principal Legal Advisor (OPLA) followed suit, providing specific instructions to attorneys on how to align their advocacy with the direction provided to them by DHS and the ICE Director.”

Johnson said those changes have “yielded measurable success,” including 12,025 Enforcement and Removal Operations arrests of individuals convicted of an aggravated felony whereas the previous fiscal year had 6,815 such arrests. Since February, the report notes, ICE arrested an average of 1,034 aggravated felons per month, 51 percent more than during calendar years 2017-2020 and 53 percent more than during CY 2016.

“Although ICE was called on to provide significant levels of support to its partners in U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) as detailed later in this report, the agency still increased its volume of at-large arrests by 9 percent, from 23,932 in FY 2020 to 25,993 in FY 2021, reflecting renewed focus by ICE to protect all people by identifying and targeting the most serious threats residing in our communities that threaten America’s national security and public safety,” he said. The report states that “during the summer and into the fall of 2021, ERO had up to 1,000 of its 6,228 officers supporting Southwest Border efforts, roughly one-sixth of the operational workforce.”

In FY 2021, ERO conducted a total of 74,082 administrative arrests of noncitizens. Approximately 49 percent of all arrests were of convicted criminals. Offenses associated with noncitizens arrested in FY 2021 included 1,506 homicide-related offenses, 3,415 sexual assaults, 19,549 assaults, 2,717 robberies, and 1,063 kidnappings.

At-large arrests rose by 9 percent, from 23,932 at-large arrests in FY 2020 to 25,993 in FY 2021. “The 90-day Sex Offender Arrest Removal (SOAR) enforcement initiative, a targeted intelligence-driven operation that resulted in the arrests of 495 noncitizen sex offenders (compared to 194 over the same period in FY 2020) from 54 different countries,” the report states. “Of particular note, 80 percent of those noncitizens had victimized children.”

In FY 2021, ICE removed 59,011 noncitizens; the percentage of convicted criminal removals increased from 56 percent of ICE removals in FY 2020 to 66 percent of ICE removals in FY 2021. Of total removals, 2,718 of those removed were known or suspected gang members. Another 34 were designated as known or suspected terrorists.

ERO assisted with 36,654 air charter expulsions under Title 42, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, over the course of the year.

ERO managed the care and custody of detainees from more than 180 countries during the fiscal year, with only 75 percent of 34,000 detention beds available due to COVID-19 protocols. The ICE Health Service Corps within ERO oversaw healthcare to approximately 88,000 detainees at 21 facilities nationwide including 88,430 intake screenings, 13,622 emergency room visits, 8,497 dental visits, 12,041 urgent care visits, 78,202 sick calls, and 46,496 mental health interventions. IHSC administered a total of 184,779 COVID-19 tests as part of pandemic response requirements and administered 33,909 COVID-19 vaccine shots.

Homeland Security Investigations arrested 34,974 criminals, seized more than 2.45 million pounds of narcotics, identified and/or rescued 1,177 victims of child exploitation, assisted 728 victims of human trafficking, and disrupted and dismantled countless TCOs during the fiscal year.

In FY 2020, HSI began targeting the illicit funding of the Iranian designated terrorist organizations Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and Quds Force (QF). This has resulted in 2.6 million barrels of IRGC-QF fuel and crude oil seized, $64 million in U.S. currency seized, and the indictment of two Iranian nationals.

HSI also screened 1,005,408 visa applications, and recommended that 4,824 visas be refused based on terrorist connections or derogatory information.

ICE ended FY 2021 with a total workforce of 20,796 employees and a high agency onboard fill rate of 94 percent. As of September 30, 2021, through Office of Human Capital (OHC) efforts, ICE opened 779 job announcements, processed 125,405 applications in USA Staffing, and issued more than 4,971 certificates. In FY 2021, ICE hired a total of 391 veterans and the ICE workforce is now composed of 29 percent (5,961) veterans.

Lauding the dedication of the ICE workforce, Johnson said the final enforcement guidelines issued by DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in November “develop clear priorities for enforcement, but also provide flexibility for ICE officers to weigh aggravating and mitigating factors and make individualized enforcement decisions.”

Johnson also highlighted the February 2021 removal of 95-year-old Friedrich Karl Berger — “likely one of the last fugitive Nazis who will be tracked down and removed from the United States.”

“A testament to collaboration among ERO, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and OPLA, Berger’s arrest and removal demonstrates our country’s and our agency’s tireless pursuit of justice against those who violate fundamental human rights and who undermine human dignity itself,” he said.

Read the FY 2021 ICE Annual Report

Bridget Johnson
Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a terrorism analyst and security consultant with a specialty in online open-source extremist propaganda, incitement, recruitment, and training. She hosts and presents in Homeland Security Today law enforcement training webinars studying a range of counterterrorism topics including conspiracy theory extremism, complex coordinated attacks, critical infrastructure attacks, arson terrorism, drone and venue threats, antisemitism and white supremacists, anti-government extremism, and WMD threats. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15 and a private investigator. Bridget is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera, BBC and SiriusXM.

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