Immigration Law

ICE Focus Shifts Away from Detaining Serious Criminals - TRAC

TRAC, June 25, 2019

"Much in the news has been the increasing number of immigrants being held in custody. This report profiles those individuals Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has detained. Based on case-by-case records recently obtained by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University, these "snapshots" of individuals held by ICE start in September 2016 and now extend through December 2018.

ICE Detainees

As of December 31, 2018, ICE had 47,486 individuals in its custody. The number of ICE detainees was up 22 percent from the 38,810 persons ICE held at the end of September 2016. A free web app accompanying this report allows readers a detailed look at ICE detention practices.

The most striking change over this 27-month period was a dramatic drop in the number of individuals who had committed serious crimes. See Figure 1 and Table 1. Despite the increasing number of individuals ICE detained, fewer and fewer immigrants who had committed serious crimes were arrested and held in custody by the agency. Their numbers had dropped by over twelve hundred (-1,253), while total ICE detainees ballooned by over eighty-six hundred (8,676) during the same period. Immigrants who had never been convicted of even a minor violation shot up 39 percent.

Individuals were held by ICE in a total of 215 different facilities. ICE detainees increasingly were at facilities located in Texas, Georgia and Mississippi. In contrast, California, Washington and New York experienced a decline in the number of immigrants held at facilities in those states.


Figure 1. ICE Detaining Fewer with Serious Criminal Convictions,
Sept 2016 vs Dec 2018
(Click for larger image)

The length of detention varied. One detainee had been locked up by ICE in October 2007 - more than eleven and a half years ago - and was still detained at the end of December 2018. While most had been recently detained, ten percent of immigrants according to ICE records had been held for 6 months or more.

Individuals were mainly from four countries. Forty-three percent were from the Central American countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. An additional 20 percent were Mexicans. Both the number of Mexicans, as well as their relative share of the detained population, have steadily declined."

Table 1. Immigrants in ICE Custody, September 2016 vs. December 2018
Most Serious Criminal Conviction Number Detained Change
end Sep 16 end Dec 18 Number Percent
All 38,810 47,486 8,676 22%
Level 1 - serious crime 7,439 6,186 -1,253 -17%
Level 2 - other 2,134 2,237 103 5%
Level 3 - minor violation 7,842 9,310 1,468 19%
No Conviction 21,395 29,753 8,358 39%