Ten-Fold Difference in Odds of ICE Enforcement Depending Upon Where You Live

More than 11 million individuals who are "unauthorized" are now estimated to be living and often working in the U.S. That is, these people are noncitizens and have overstayed their visas or entered the country illegally.

The current Administration states it seeks to find and deport everyone who is undocumented. That makes every one of these 11 million people a potential target for arrest and deportation.

But clearly Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) does not have the capacity to suddenly arrest, detain, and deport all 11 million people. Thus, the absence of any clear priorities means that ICE decides who to target and deport on the basis of other factors.

This report examines two main enforcement strategies ICE now uses to locate and deport individuals. The first involves "custodial arrests." Here ICE "arrests" individuals whom another law enforcement agency has taken into custody for other reasons. This is simply a transfer of custody from one law enforcement agency to another. The principal program using this approach is known as the Secure Communities (SC) program.

According to ICE case-by-case records, SC now accounts for over four out of every five ICE interior removals[1]. As part of this program, ICE often issues detainers asking other law enforcement agencies - local, state or federal—to hold individuals longer, to give ICE time to take them into custody. This program has encountered resistance in many communities and has led to passage of "sanctuary" provisions[2] limiting local cooperation with ICE enforcement officers.

In the second approach, ICE arrests individuals it believes are deportable after it finds or encounters them out in the community. These arrests take place at many locations—at individuals' homes, work places, when arriving at an appointment at USCIS or ICE or a court, traveling, or elsewhere. This report refers to these non-custodial arrests as "community" arrests. ICE has stated that the agency must rely on stepped-up community arrests to compensate for having fewer custodial transfers in sanctuary jurisdictions.

Two major findings emerged from this study:

  • A person's odds of being arrested and deported vary greatly depending upon where he or she lives. The odds of SC deportations and ICE community arrests showed up to a ten-fold difference among the states. Living in a sanctuary jurisdiction often reduced these odds.

  • For example, as shown in Figure 1, living in Los Angeles, New York City, or Chicago (Cook County) meant a much lower chance of deportation under Secure Communities, compared with residing in Dallas, Texas, Orange County, California, or Phoenix, Arizona (Maricopa County).

    Figure 1. Odds of Secure Communities Deportations Varies Sharply by County
    (Click for larger image)
  • A person's odds of being arrested by ICE in a "community arrest" are not necessarily higher if they reside in a sanctuary versus non-sanctuary jurisdiction. Despite the agency's claims, the data showed little pattern of such a link. For example, as shown in Figure 2, in comparing states that have the most unauthorized residents, no relationship is evident between states with lower rates of SC deportations and those with higher rates of community arrests. Or vice-versa.

    Figure 2. Little Relationship Between Odds of ICE Community Arrests vs. Secure Communities Deportations
    (Click for larger image)

Additional details on these two conclusions follow.

The National Picture

This report differs from many other studies that simply report on the number of ICE enforcement actions. This study places these numbers into context by comparing enforcement actions with the estimated number of unauthorized individuals in a community.

According to case-by-case records the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University obtained recently under the Freedom of Information Act, the Secure Communities (SC) program resulted in 77,858 deportations during FY 2018. Compared with the estimated total number of unauthorized individuals residing in this country, this means 6.9 SC removals for every 1,000 individuals. Stated another way, this represents a 0.69 percent deportation rate.

The study also examined the locations where stepped-up community arrests took place. For these comparisons, TRAC used FY 2017 figures plus data through May 2018—again the latest available count. During this 20-month period, case-by-case records on ICE interior arrests showed a total of 67,237 community arrests. Compared with the over 11 million unauthorized individuals, 6.0 community arrests occurred for every 1,000 unauthorized people, or 0.60 percent.

A number of factors may affect the way a local community's rate might vary from these national averages. The most obvious factor is one that has been largely ignored in past research. This is the distribution of ICE staffing and resources. ICE managers determine the location of its removal and deportation officers. Greater (or lower) relative staffing in some locales could well increase (or depress) the number of individuals taken into custody and deported from those communities[3].

In a similar vein, those jurisdictions with special partnership agreements through ICE's 287(g) program might through their heightened cooperation generate above-average SC removal rates. While ICE is currently withholding the various reasons giving rise to specific Secure Community removals (see TRAC's lawsuit seeking the release of that data), these were provided to TRAC in the past, and at that time the 287(g) program was annually responsible for thousands of SC removals.

On the other side of the ledger, a growing number of states, counties, and other jurisdictions have adopted so-called sanctuary provisions that limit the cooperation of their law enforcement officers with ICE. To the extent these provisions achieve their stated objectives, lower SC deportation rates would be expected.

It is important to keep in mind that some variability may also be the result of data limitations. Numbers on undocumented residents are subject to estimation errors[4]. Data on where ICE enforcement actions occurred is also far from perfect. As a general rule, as geographic areas become smaller or less populous, estimates are likely to be less reliable. In addition, the locations of residence and arrest may not match. For example, if a large prison facility serves a multi-county area, numbers for the county of its location could be artificially inflated. This is because the "SC" location is based upon the location of the jail or detention facility and not on the individual's residence.

While more research is clearly warranted, the general findings of this first national study of its kind held up across a range of comparisons and were similar whether examining states or counties where large concentrations of unauthorized individuals lived.

Where ICE Concentrates Enforcement Actions

Counties with the Highest SC Deportations. If the odds of deportation were similar, communities that have larger numbers of unauthorized residents would naturally be expected to have more SC deportations. However, among the five counties with the largest number of SC deportations in FY 2018, the actual "odds" of deportation varied widely - from a low of 1.8 per 1,000 unauthorized residents in Los Angeles County to 80.7 per 1,000 in El Paso County, Texas.

Los Angeles, of course, is a sanctuary jurisdiction, and its low rate—at just one-fourth the national average—suggests that its policies may have greatly reduced the number of SC deportations there. Orange County, California, which lacks the same sanctuary provisions and has a smaller population of unauthorized people, had more actual SC deportations than LA. Its odds of a SC deportation at 7.9 per 1,000 were somewhat above the national average.

Table 1. Counties with Highest Number of
Secure Community Deportations,
FY 2018
Rank State County SC Deportations Comm.
Arrest Rate*
Number Rate*
1 Texas El Paso County 5,407 80.7 1.4
2 Arizona Maricopa County 2,974 18.8 9.1
3 Texas Harris County 2,517 6.1 5.3
4 California Orange County 2,128 7.9 1.4
5 California Los Angeles County 1,902 1.8 1.5
* Number per 1,000 unauthorized residents.

El Paso's high rates appear to be an anomaly. With its location so close to the border with Mexico, a substantial number of SC arrests and deportations are likely to involve unauthorized persons who did not reside in El Paso County but were just passing through[5]. This would have artificially inflated the county's odds of deportation.

The remaining two counties with numerically more SC deportations also had very different odds. Maricopa County, Arizona, where Phoenix is located, had the second highest number of SC deportations—2,974 - along with a deportation rate that was 2.7 times the national average. Maricopa County's sheriff for many years was Joe Arpaio, who was known for actively seeking to deport noncitizens, but he lost his bid for reelection in 2016. And SC removals in the county actually rose from 2,397 during FY 2016 to 2,974 during FY 2018.

The remaining county in the top five was Harris County, Texas, where Houston is located. Here there were 2,517 SC deportations. However, that number was actually fewer than would be expected based upon its sizable unauthorized population. Harris County in FY 2018 had just 6.1 SC deportations per every 1,000 unauthorized residents - below the national average of 6.9.

The odds of ICE community arrests among these five also varied widely. However, these did not appear related to their SC deportation odds. Below-average SC deportation rates were as likely to be associated with low odds of community arrests as they were with elevated ones. (See Table 1.)

Counties with the Highest Community Arrests. Similarly, having the most ICE community arrests by actual number didn't necessarily mean that the odds of such arrests were high. These odds ranged from a low of 2.9 per 1,000 unauthorized residents in New York City to a high of 62.4 per 1,000 in DeKalb County, Georgia, which is part of the wider Atlanta metropolitan area.

Table 2. Counties with Highest Number of
ICE Community Arrests,
FY 2017-May 2018
Rank State County ICE Comm.
SC Deport.
Number Rate*
1 Georgia DeKalb County 2,246 62.4 7.5
2 Texas Harris County 2,200 5.3 6.1
3 California San Bernardino County 2,101 14.9 5.6
4 California San Diego County 2,098 9.9 5.4
5 New York New York City (5 boroughs) 1,945 2.9 1.4
* Number per 1,000 unauthorized residents.

New York City is, of course, a sanctuary jurisdiction. And like Los Angeles County, not only did it have a below-average rate of community arrests, it also had an unusually low rate of SC deportations - just one-fifth of the national average.

At the other extreme, DeKalb County in Georgia had a rate 10 times the national average. Notably, it also experienced an above average SC deportation rate of 7.5, compared to the national average of 6.9 per thousand.

Next to New York City, the lowest odds among the five occurred in Harris County, Texas. However, as we saw above, the county also had lower rates on both community arrests and SC deportations. (See Table 2 for statistics on covering all five counties.)

Clearly once again, the odds of ICE community arrests are highly variable, and do not appear to be related to the odds of SC deportations.

Counties with the Highest Unauthorized Populations. Examining communities with the highest populations of unauthorized people, as highlighted above in Figure 1, also showed large differences in the odds of deportation through Secure Communities but little relationship with rates of community arrests. Some of the same counties also made the previous lists for the highest number of SC deportations or the highest number of community arrests.

Noteworthy on the list were three sanctuary jurisdictions. Each had below-average SC deportation rates, as well as below-average odds of ICE community arrests. Los Angeles County, California, with the largest unauthorized population in the country, had only one- fourth the national rate of Secure Community deportations. New York City (grouping the five county boroughs) as well as Cook County, Illinois, where Chicago is located, each had only one-fifth the national level. Yet all three also had below-average community arrest rates. (See Table 3 for specific figures.)

Table 3. Counties with Largest Unauthorized Populations Have Wide Differences
in Odds of ICE Community Arrests and Deportations Under Secure Communities
Rank State County Unauthorized Population* ICE Secure Comm. Deportations** ICE Community Arrests***
Number Rate Number Rate
United States 11,300,000 77,858 6.9 67,237 6.0
1 California Los Angeles County 1,051,000 1,902 1.8 1,568 1.5
2 New York New York City (5 boroughs) 672,000 935 1.4 1,945 2.9
3 Texas Harris County 412,000 2,517 6.1 2,200 5.3
4 Illinois Cook County 307,000 430 1.4 1,544 5.0
5 California Orange County 271,000 2,128 7.9 391 1.4
6 Texas Dallas County 247,000 1,820 7.4 1,305 5.3
7 California San Diego County 211,000 1,146 5.4 2,098 9.9
8 California Riverside County 163,000 397 2.4 71 0.4
9 Arizona Maricopa County 158,000 2,974 18.8 1,437 9.1
10 Florida Miami-Dade-Monroe Counties 156,000 901 5.8 1,812 11.6
* Source: Estimates from Migration Policy Institute of top 10 counties with largest unauthorized populations in 2016.
** ICE SC Deportations in FY 2018 and rate per 1,000 estimated unauthorized persons.
*** ICE Community Arrests (FY 2017-May 2018) and rate per 1,000 estimated unauthorized persons.

States with the Highest Unauthorized Populations. Wide variation in the odds of a Secure Community removal is also evident when states are compared. Figure 3 shows the odds of deportation for states with at least 100,000 estimated unauthorized residents[6]. These odds ranged from a low of 1.9 per thousand unauthorized residents in New Jersey to a high of 22.8 per 1,000 in Arizona. Six states - headed by Arizona, Texas, Tennessee and Georgia - had rates higher than the national average. Three states - Massachusetts, Florida and Pennsylvania - mirrored the national average (plus or minus 10%). And 12 states - headed by New Jersey, Maryland, New York, and Connecticut - had below-average rates.

Figure 3. Odds of Secure Communities Deportations Varies Sharply by State
(Click for larger image)

States with statewide sanctuary provisions tended to have below-average deportation odds. However, some variation was also evident. Additional states that didn't have widespread sanctuary provisions in place still had similar below-average rates.

This same set of states also had highly variable rates of ICE community arrests, ranging from a low of 2.4 per 1,000 in Virginia to a high of 25.6 per 1,000 in Pennsylvania. (See Table 4.) As shown earlier in Figure 2, highlighted at the beginning of this report, little relationship showed between these states and their odds of Secure Community removals versus community arrests.

Table 4. States with Largest Unauthorized Populations Have Wide Differences in Odds of ICE Community Arrests and Deportations Under Secure Communities
Rank State Unauthorized Population* ICE Secure Comm. Deportations** ICE Community Arrests***
Number Rate Number Rate
United States 11,300,000 77,858 6.9 67,237 6.0
1 California 3,059,000 12,600 4.1 10,057 3.3
2 Texas 1,597,000 23,802 14.9 7,391 4.6
3 New York 940,000 2,088 2.2 3,484 3.7
4 Florida 656,000 4,125 6.3 4,215 6.4
5 New Jersey 526,000 1,015 1.9 2,641 5.0
6 Illinois 487,000 1,319 2.7 1,636 3.4
7 Georgia 351,000 3,493 10.0 2,919 8.3
8 North Carolina 321,000 1,924 6.0 1,590 5.0
9 Virginia 269,000 1,266 4.7 651 2.4
10 Maryland 247,000 510 2.1 1,857 7.5
11 Washington 229,000 1,068 4.7 1,324 5.8
12 Arizona 226,000 5,145 22.8 1,665 7.4
13 Massachusetts 173,000 1,069 6.2 1,458 8.4
14 Colorado 162,000 1,261 7.8 1,773 10.9
15 Pennsylvania 141,000 997 7.1 3,610 25.6
16 Michigan 129,000 705 5.5 1,498 11.6
16 Nevada 129,000 1,124 8.7 590 4.6
18 Tennessee 121,000 1,229 10.2 874 7.2
19 Oregon 113,000 345 3.1 997 8.8
20 Ohio 107,000 648 6.1 1,215 11.4
21 Connecticut 102,000 253 2.5 532 5.2
* Source: Estimates from Migration Policy Institute of states with at least 100,000 unauthorized populations in 2016.
** ICE SC Deportations in FY 2018 and rate per 1,000 estimated unauthorized persons.
*** ICE Community Arrests (FY 2017-May 2018) and rate per 1,000 estimated unauthorized persons.


The current Administration has not faced the practical reality that it does not have the capacity to suddenly find, detain, and deport some 11 million undocumented immigrants. By failing to face up to its own limitations and prioritize what it can accomplish, it has created a system where a myriad of hidden decisions actually determines who is targeted for immigration enforcement actions.

Whatever the faults may be in our current immigration laws, the manner in which these laws are being administered has resulted in a country in which the location of your home has an outsize influence on whether ICE will target you. This has not resulted in either an efficient or effective system for achieving this Administration's stated policies or its goals. Nor can such a system be described as meeting this nation's commitment to the rule of law - a principle that all people and institutions are subject to and accountable to laws that are fairly applied and enforced.


[1] This report uses the terms "deportations" and "removals" interchangeably. While most SC deportations are formal removals, where an individual is barred for a period of years from returning to the U.S., some are voluntary departures or voluntary returns. Strictly speaking, not every SC deportation results from a custodial arrest, although this is the program's focus. TRAC is currently seeking a court order to require ICE to release the information it collects on how these arrests took place, so that custodial versus community arrests in the SC program might be distinguished.

[2] The nature of these provisions varies widely. Further, rulings by courts in additional jurisdictions have served to limit state and local governments' cooperation with ICE enforcement initiatives.

[3] It is impossible to assess the degree to which this factor contributes to locational difference among communities because ICE does not release data on its staff deployments. While such deployment data had been available for virtually all federal agencies since the country's founding, the federal government now withholds statistics on where ICE and other federal enforcement personnel are stationed. Second, ICE also largely withholds detailed data on what happens after ICE makes a fingerprint match or issues a detainer. The most recent data ICE previously released to TRAC did indicate that ICE eventually takes into custody only four people out of every ten for whom it issues detainers. This suggests that staffing constraints could well be limiting SC-initiated arrests.

[4] Estimates for the size of the unauthorized population in states and counties do differ depending upon the choice of estimation methods used. This report relies upon estimates developed by the Migration Policy Institute. DHS also publishes less detailed estimates for some states. The Pew Research Center and the Center for Migration Studies also develop a range of their own estimates.

[5] ICE counts as "Secure Communities deportations" some resulting from arrests by the Border Patrol or at entry ports when custody is turned over to ICE. While ICE is withholding data for FY 2018, earlier information TRAC received showed El Paso County had the largest number of these CBP-generated arrests.

[6] To be conservative, only states with at least 100,000 estimated unauthorized residents were included in these comparisons. As unauthorized populations become smaller, odds ratios become less reliable.

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 trac@syr.edu or call 315-443-3563.