ICE Now Issuing 14,000 Detainers Each Month - Number Honored Unclear
Newly released Immigration and Customs Enforcement data—updated through November 2017—reveal ICE is issuing just under 14,000 new detainers on average each month. This has been the pace during the last nine months. Although the number of detainers jumped sharply right after President Trump assumed office, numbers have stabilized since March 2017 and have not climbed further. See Figure 1.
Figure 1. Number of Detainers Prepared by Immigration and Customs Enforcement,
October 2008 - November 2017
(Click for larger image)
ICE has long claimed that detainers, often called "immigration holds," are an essential tool needed to apprehend and deport individuals not authorized to remain in the U.S. These official ICE requests ask local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to not release certain non- citizens held at their facilities in order to give ICE an opportunity to take them into its custody and initiate deportation steps.
Table 1. Number of ICE Detainers, FY 2012 - FY 2017
While ICE detainer usage is up since the FY 2015-2016 period when ICE's Priority Enforcement Program (PEP) was in place, ICE's current use of detainers is well below the levels existing during the Secure Communities era under President Obama. On a fiscal year basis, for example, FY 2017 detainer usage was 48 percent lower than five years ago. Table 1 compares the number of detainers prepared each fiscal year, from FY 2012 through FY 2017.
How Many Individuals Does ICE Take Into Custody?
Trends in detainer usage, however, do not necessarily correspond with the number of individuals ICE takes into custody after issuing a detainer. For example, ICE records whether or not the local law enforcement agency (LEA) that receives an ICE detainer refused to honor it. The rate of refusals during the March 2017 - November 2017 period was up 32.1 percent over the same nine month period in 2016. However, the recorded rate of ICE refusals remains quite low. Only 5.3 percent of detainers ICE prepared are recorded by the agency as being refused by the LEA while the rate in 2016 was a refusal rate of just 4.0 percent.
Unfortunately, the accuracy of ICE records on refusals is questionable. See TRAC's August 2016 report. ICE itself has conceded their records are unreliable. ICE initially issued three weekly reports on refused detainers using these records, following then Secretary Kelly's February 20, 2017 directive calling for publication of the names of LEAs that refused to honor detainer requests. However, ICE then abruptly discontinued these reports after local jurisdictions identified numerous errors in them. The last report covered the February 11 - 17, 2017 period. Over a year ago the agency posted a notice on its public website stating:
"ICE remains committed to publishing the most accurate information available regarding declined detainers across the country and continues to analyze and refine its reporting methodologies. While this analysis is ongoing, the publication of the Declined Detainer Outcome Report (DDOR) will be temporarily suspended."
This notice remains on ICE's website and publication of these reports has not resumed.
Setting aside LEA refusals, there are even larger reasons why the issuance of ICE detainers may not mean the individuals were taken into custody. Previously released data revealed that—for the most recent available period—only about one in three (34%) of the individuals on whom detainers were prepared were actually taken into custody by ICE.
Unfortunately, since January 2017 ICE has refused to release more recent data on how often it assumes custody of immigrants after issuing a detainer. The agency is also now refusing to release any information on whether the subjects of ICE detainers had ever been convicted of a crime or, for those convicted, their most serious criminal offense. While ICE used to regularly release all of this information to TRAC, ICE currently argues that it was not required to do so and has decided to stop releasing these data. TRAC is now in federal court seeking a court order to compel ICE to provide this information. See: http://trac.syr.edu/foia/ice/20170509/.
3,512 Separate LEAs Sent ICE Detainers Since January 2017
Accompanying this report are details of the ICE detainer records that TRAC has compiled. An online web tool allows users to examine month-by-month the number of ICE detainers since January 2017 addressed to each of 3,512 local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. Also identified are the 498 individual LEAs during this period that ICE data indicate have refused one or more of these detainer requests. The tool allows users to focus on the most recent months, or examine the entire period from October 2002 through November 2017.
A second web tool provides access to historical data covering the period where ICE provided many more details on its detainer usage, including whether the individual was taken into custody and each subject's criminal history.
 And if ICE indicates a detainer was refused, it doesn't provide any information on the reason. For example, ICE records during the current administration indicate that even the U.S. Bureau of Prisons refused to honor ICE detainers on 8 separate occasions.
TRAC is a nonpartisan, nonprofit data research center affiliated with the Newhouse School of Public Communications and the Whitman School of Management, both at Syracuse University. For more information, to subscribe, or to donate, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 315-443-3563.