The Trump administration boasted on Tuesday about one of its primary campaign promises, the crackdown on illegal immigration, claiming it issued 27.8% more removal orders than last year.
But deportations are actually down. In 2016, about 20,000 people were removed from the country per month. So far in 2017, that number is closer to 16,900. At that rate, federal immigration officials will have removed fewer people from the country than during even the slowest years of the Obama administration, reports Politico, even though immigration arrests rose 38% in the first 100 days since Trump's inauguration.
Why? An arrest doesn't mean an automatic deportation. Everyone arrested by a federal immigration agent receives a court hearing, which determines whether they lack legal status and aren't eligible for an exemption such as asylum. A huge backlog of cases have nearly frozen the immigration courts: Nearly 610,000 cases await hearings, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.
"The courts are more paralyzed than ever before," says John Sandweg, who was acting director of ICE from 2013 to 2014.
That's partly due to an increase in arrests during Obama's term. But the backlog has grown rapidly under Trump — nearly 100,000 cases, or 18% in six months.
And Sandweg partly blames Trump's decision to stop prioritizing the deportation of serious criminals, erasing the distinction between them, non-criminals and lower-level offenders. "When you go out and you arrest a whole bunch of people willy-nilly, [the judge] has got to fill his docket time hearing those arguments," Sandweg told Politico.
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But the process may soon speed up. The Department of Justice announced Tuesday that it had hired dozens of new immigration judges since Trump took office and that the president included funding for 75 more in his 2018 budget.