New statistics show U.S. immigration officials are on pace to deport fewer people in the government's 2017 fiscal year than the previous year, despite a 43 percent increase in arrests by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.
The most recent statistics show that ICE deported 211,068 immigrants as of Sept. 9, three weeks from the end of the government's fiscal year for 2017. That number is down from 240,255 immigrants who were deported in the 2016 fiscal year, reports The Washington Post.
"ICE has taken the gloves off, and they are going after whoever they want and for whatever reason. It's a free-for-all now," said immigration attorney Ray Ybarra Maldonado.
During the 2016 presidential election, a tougher stance on illegal immigration was a major part of President Donald Trump's campaign platform as a candidate.
Under Trump, ICE has arrested more immigrants with criminal records, but the fastest-growing category of arrests for ICE under the Trump administration is reported to be those who are not facing criminal charges.
ICE arrested more than 28,000 "non-criminal immigration violators" from Jan. 22 to Sept. 2, almost tripling the number from the same time period in 2016.
Several factors could be contributing to the increase in arrests but decline in deportations under the Trump administration. After Trump's inauguration, there was reported to be a dramatic decline in the number of people trying to cross the U.S. border with Mexico, and opposition to Trump's policies has led to an increase in funding for groups advocating for immigrant rights, along with groups providing pro bono legal assistance to immigrants, such as the Southern Poverty Law Center.
"We're only able to to represent a small portion of the immigrants who need lawyers, but there has been a groundswell of support for immigrant rights across the country," said Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative Director Dan Werner.
The increase in arrests has also clogged the immigration court system, which has struggled to keep up with the influx of new cases. It's possible immigrants arrested since Trump's inauguration could be in the system for years before they exhaust their appeals and face deportation.
ICE recently arrested hundreds of immigrants in "sanctuary cities" that are not supportive of the president's crackdown on immigrants in the country illegally, including New York, Los Angeles and Washington D.C., according to The Washington Post.
In the four-day operation, 498 immigrants were arrested. The operation, which ended on Sept. 17, was dubbed "Operation Safe City" by federal officials. Fewer than two-thirds of those immigrants reportedly had criminal records in the U.S.
Of those arrested, 181 did not have criminal records.
Critics of Trump's immigration policies spoke out against the operation.
"These raids are simply another attempt by the president and his anti-immigrant chiefs to bully cities into undermining the constitutional protections of all [their] residents, irrespective of their immigration status," said Democratic Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico, who is chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
"We are never going to stop enforcing the laws that we're authorized and required to do," said ICE Executive Associate Director Matthew Albence. "If we need to go into these locations every week, we will go into these locations every week to remove these public safety threats."