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Homeland Security: Apprehensions up, deportations down in 2014

DHS released year-end statistics for FY 2014

Shifting policies and demographic changes have caused apprehensions to rise even as deportations have dropped, a situation complicated by the summer's influx of Central American children and families.

Apprehensions by U.S. Border Patrol agents nationwide are up 15 percent compared to last year, mainly due to the influx of unaccompanied children and family units in south Texas this summer, according to figures released Friday by the Department of Homeland Security. 

Between the fiscal years of 2013 and 2014, the number of unaccompanied children jumped 76 percent, while the number of family units—children with adult parents or guardians—jumped 356 percent.

In 2013, agents apprehended nearly 39,000 children and around 15,000 family units nationwide, but in 2014 agents picked up 68,631 children and 68,684 families.

The influx was almost entirely in Texas, where Border Patrol agents apprehended 332,457 people — 69 percent of the total number of people picked up along the southwest border. Arizona apprehensions were just over 19 percent of the total. However, Arizona continues to be the main avenue for drug seizures, where agents seized more than a million pounds of narcotics.

The influx of children and families from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras also shifted the pattern of illegal immigration into the United States. For the first time the agency also apprehended more people at the southwest border from Central America than those from Mexico.

Border Patrol apprehended 229,178 Mexicans attempting to come into the country and 257,473 from other countries, the vast majority were from Central America.

The numbers of deportations reflects this change.

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Between the fiscal year of 2013 and 2014, the number of undocumented immigrants deported by DHS dropped 5 percent. In 2014, DHS deported 414,481 people.

DHS deported 414,481 undocumented immigrants from the United States in fiscal year 2014. 

Homeland Security officials attributed this change to the complexity in deporting people back to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. While Border Patrol agents can easily transport Mexican to the border, undocumented immigrants caught from Central America must be housed, processed and eventually flown back to their country.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said that the numbers were "informed by a number of complex and shifting factors."

Officials also noted that the surge of Central Americans shifted agents away from a program, designed to move immigrants apprehended in one border sector to another, in an attempt to disrupt smuggling and border crossings.  In 2013 and 2014, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents on the Alien Transfer Exit Program, or ATEP, were shifted to managing proceedings for families and children.

On Monday, the agency announced it was opening a new facility for up to 2,400 families in Dilley, Texas.

In 2013 and 2014, ICE began reallocating limited resources away from ATEP to focus on the increasing number of Central American migrants and to effectively manage the influx of family units and unaccompanied children apprehended at the border, which has resulted in reduced ICE ATEP removals. 

Officials also said that continuing to shift enforcement priorities from all undocumented immigrants to "priority" categories, meaning those who had criminal records in the U.S. or represented threats to national security.

According to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, 85 percent of people marked for removal and returns in the interior  had been previously convicted of a crime, up significantly from 2011 when it was just 67 percent.

However, a recent review of data by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a nonpartisan research project supported by Syracuse University, found the increase includes largely the removal of individuals “whose most serious conviction was an immigration or traffic violation.”

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"The number of individuals deported who have been convicted of any criminal offense apart from an immigration or traffic violation has actually declined,” said TRAC.

Homeland Security officials also complained that fewer local and state law enforcement agencies are honoring ICE detainers. According to ICE, there are more than 275 agencies that refused to comply with the administration's Secure Communities program, which allows police to compare the fingerprints of people they've just arrested with a national database. If someone has an immigration violation, ICE would place a "detainer" and ask police to hold a person until they can arrive.

"When detainers are not honored, ICE must expend additional resources to develop and execute operations to locate and arrest at-large criminal aliens," the agency said in a statement. 

However, TRAC noted that there has been a "drastic drop" in the number of detainers issued to local law enforcement, and of those, fewer target serious criminals. In an analysis of nearly 350,000 detainers nearly half were issued for people with no recorded conviction. And for those convicted of some offense, the most common were driving under the influence, common traffic offenses, and marijuana possession.

While at least 275 agencies have declined to hold people for ICE, in Arizona only South Tucson has officially refused to honor detainers. In New Mexico, five agencies including Bernalillo County, which covers Albuquerque, have refused to honor detainers and in California, dozens of agencies are doing the same, including San Francisco and Los Angeles.

 “DHS’s 2014 year-end enforcement statistics demonstrate that our front line officers and agents continue to execute their critical mission in a smart and effective way, focusing our resources on convicted criminals and those attempting to illegally cross our nation’s borders,” said  Johnson.

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

A bus loaded with unaccompanied minors from south Texas are transported to the Border Patrol station in Nogales in June, 2014.