Deportations of Migrants Rise to More than 142,000 under Biden

Michael Robinson Chávez/The Washington Post
Venezuelan migrants negotiate razor wire as they cross the Rio Grande along the border wall between the United States and Mexico on Sept. 21 in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement deported more than 142,000 immigrants in fiscal year 2023, nearly double the number from the year before, as the Biden administration ramped up enforcement to stem illegal border crossings, according to the agency’s annual report, published Friday.

Nearly 18,000 of those deported were parents and children traveling as family units, surpassing the 14,400 removed under the Trump administration in fiscal 2020.

Federal officials said the removals adhered to the Biden administration’s enforcement strategy, which the Supreme Court upheld in June. Migrants who cross the border illegally and those who commit violent crimes or otherwise pose a safety threat are priorities for removal. The ICE report covered the period from Oct. 1, 2022, to Sept. 30.

The increase in deportations is more a reflection of the high numbers of migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border than interior enforcement, which Biden has discouraged in most cases.

“ICE continues to disrupt transnational criminal organizations, remove threats to national security and public safety, uphold the integrity of U.S. immigration laws, and collaborate with colleagues across government and law enforcement in pursuit of our mission to keep U.S. communities safe,” said ICE Deputy Director Patrick J. Lechleitner in a statement.

Just 2,500 of the 72,000 non-criminals deported from the United States in fiscal 2023 were in the interior of the country, where dozens of sanctuary cities and towns have passed ordinances seeking to limit ICE from detaining migrants. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in 2021 that being undocumented should not be the sole basis for removing someone from the country.

President Biden took office promising to create a more humane immigration system, and he attempted to pause deportations temporarily in the hope that Congress would create a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.

But that hope faded amid fierce resistance from Republicans and public disapproval of the record number of border apprehensions, which surpassed 2 million for the first time in 2022 and is expected to do so again this year.

The Biden administration nonetheless has sharply reduced interior enforcement, halting workplace immigration raids and sparing most undocumented immigrants from being deported. Officials also stopped detaining families in ICE-run facilities.

But officials have also warned migrants against hiring smugglers to take them on a dangerous journey north to the U.S.-Mexico border and have said people who breach the border would face penalties. Officials have reinstituted removals to countries such as Venezuela and have publicized deportations as a signal to migrants that the government will enforce immigration laws.

Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies for the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors immigration enforcement, said the increase in deportations remains a tiny share of those arriving at the southern border.

The 18,000 family units deported last year is far smaller than the 621,000 parents and children taken into custody at the border during the same period. Most were released to await a court date, she said.

ICE’s workload has swelled under Biden. The number of migrants on the deportation docket has risen from 2.6 million in fiscal 2018 to about 6.2 million last fiscal year. The agency has approximately 6,000 immigration officers.

All told, officials deported 142,580 immigrants to about 180 countries last fiscal year, including more than 44,000 from the interior and more than 98,000 from the border, the report said. Another 60,000 people were expelled under a Trump-era policy that ended in May.

In the previous fiscal year, officials deported more than 72,000 immigrants.

Vaughan criticized the Biden administration for allowing in migrants from all over the world without a clear path to stay permanently. She said the administration could have referred migrants to refugee programs or deported them to better control the border.

“Basically Biden suspended enforcement of immigration laws for all intents and purposes except against the most serious criminals,” she said. “That’s why we’ve seen such an explosion in illegal migration. People know that if they make it to the border they’re going to be allowed in.”

The Biden administration has said poverty and political insecurity is fueling the highest levels of worldwide migration since World War II. In the Western Hemisphere, officials say, migrants are escaping authoritarian governments, violence and poverty, hoping to start a new life in the United States.

Advocates for immigrants have said past policies that forced migrants into dangerous cities in Mexico were inhumane and have urged Congress to update immigration laws to help address the issue. Business leaders and nonprofits have pointed out that the United States is in desperate need of workers, with an estimated 10 million unfilled jobs.

Silky Shah, executive director of Detention Watch Network, a national coalition that opposes detaining migrants, expressed concern about the increase in removals and credited local advocacy for tamping down deportations from the interior of the United States.

“A lot of that is the movement saying we don’t want ICE to target community members,” she said.

She said advocates were dismayed that Biden has backpedaled on his campaign promise to end private detention, which remains the mainstay of the more than 100 detention facilities nationwide.

“It’s very unfortunate,” she said.

ICE, which turned 20 this year, has more than 20,000 employees and a yearly budget of more than $8 billion. The agency enforces civil immigration laws and also investigates crimes, such as drug trafficking and human smuggling.