New Data Analysis Reveals ICE's Enforcement Activities Contradicted Biden Administration's Prioritization Guidelines

June 28, 2023
Last modified: 
June 28, 2023

WASHINGTON—Newly analyzed government data exposes the discrepancy between U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's actions and its own guidelines. The information released today by the American Immigration Council, the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, and Mijente Support Committee highlights the importance of comprehensive data collection and calls for greater transparency and oversight of ICE's enforcement activities.

The data, obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests, sheds light on ICE’s enforcement activities during the period of the Biden administration's interim enforcement priorities and demonstrates that enforcement actions against immigrants who did not meet the agency’s priorities accounted for approximately one-third of all ICE enforcement activities. The findings reveal that places like New York City and Chicago exhibited higher shares of enforcement actions falling under this “other” priority.

In 2021, the Biden administration issued policy guidance, commonly known as “enforcement priorities,” instructing ICE to prioritize enforcement actions against specific groups of individuals under the guise of national security, border security, or public safety. The guidance directed ICE to employ prosecutorial discretion to limit immigration enforcement actions outside of these categories. However, in June 2022, a federal court in Texas halted the implementation of these guidelines, leading to the case that reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled on Friday that Texas and Louisiana lacked standing to challenge the administration’s enforcement priorities, and rejected the idea that states can ask the court to order the federal government to carry out more arrests and deportations.

The analysis draws from data obtained from two separate FOIA requests. The first request yielded cumulative data on enforcement actions from February 18 to November 11, 2021, broken down by Areas of Responsibility. As a result of the second request, ICE produced a dataset covering February 23 to November 28, 2021, specifically focusing on ICE activities labeled as "other” priority. This dataset included detailed information on 23,570 individual ICE actions.

The analysis of ICE's enforcement data reveals several crucial takeaways:

1. ICE's Noncompliance with Guidelines: ICE frequently arrested and removed individuals who were not designated as enforcement priorities, contradicting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas' statements that ICE would refrain from indiscriminate enforcement. Approximately one-third of ICE's enforcement actions targeted immigrants outside of the priorities, with some regions, such as New York City, Chicago, and Saint Paul, having over half of their activities categorized as “other priorities.”

2. Need for Comprehensive Data Collection: The collection of robust data is essential for effective oversight of ICE's enforcement activities. The final iteration of Mayorkas’ enforcement priorities failed to include directions as to specific data to be collected for each enforcement action. Enhanced data collection, including the location of arrests, detainers issued, and specific details about where enforcement actions took place, is needed to provide transparency and accountability to the public and elected officials over ICE.

3. Comprehensive Map of ICE Enforcement: The data analysis includes a comprehensive map that provides an overview of ICE enforcement activities across various areas of responsibility. By exploring the map, users can access information such as the proportion of enforcement initiatives segmented by priority, the count of activities labeled as “other” priorities, and the percentage of approved requests for enforcement actions against individuals outside of the priorities.

“These findings suggest that ICE often deviates from its own guidelines. Our analysis of ICE's enforcement data highlights significant discrepancies between the agency's actions and the Biden administration's enforcement priorities,” said Raul Pinto, senior staff attorney at the American Immigration Council. “These findings underscore the importance of transparency and data collection to hold ICE accountable and ensure meaningful oversight.”

“This report is a poignant reminder that ICE continues to arrest and detain people out of our communities every day. The data allows us to see the scope of ICE’s enforcement actions in the first year of the Biden administration and look at patterns of behavior in different ICE field offices. It shows how ICE continues to aggressively pursue immigration enforcement, notwithstanding narrower policy directives from DC,” said Lena Graber, senior staff attorney at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center.

To access the detailed data and analysis click here.


For more information, contact:

 Maria Frausto at the American Immigration Council, [email protected] or 202-507-7526 or  Donna De La Cruz at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, [email protected] or (202) 441-3798.

Media Contact

Elyssa Pachico
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