ICE Detainer Usage Declines in 2019, Trends Vary by State
Newly released Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) data-updated through May 2019-reveals that ICE has been issuing about 6 percent fewer detainers this year than it did during the same period last year. During the first eight months of FY 2019, ICE issued 13,898 detainers on average each month, down from 14,775 per month in FY 2018. See Table 1. Detainers are viewed by ICE as a foundation for its Secure Communities program. This decline in detainer usage parallels a similar recent decline in the number of Secure Communities deportations.
Table 1. Average Number of ICE Detainers Issued Per Month
Once President Trump assumed office, the Secure Communities program was restored and detainer usage initially climbed. FY 2019 marks the first modest declines from these higher levels. ICE continued usage of detainers still remains well below levels from ten years ago, although slightly above levels in FY 2014. See earlier Table 1.
Changes in Where ICE Targets Detainers
There have been substantial changes in where ICE now targets its detainers compared to five years ago. During FY 2014 under President Obama, law enforcement agencies (LEAs) in Texas received the largest number of ICE detainers. This year, fewer ICE detainers were sent to Texas LEAs while detainers sent to California LEAs jumped. Now California receives the largest number. Detainers ICE prepared for California law enforcement agencies have increased by 42.0 percent from levels of five years ago. Other states with large jumps included a 35.7 percent increase in Florida, a 32.4 percent gain in New Jersey, a 21.7 percent rise in New York, and a 21.1 percent increase in Georgia.
Figure 1. Change in Where ICE Detainers Are Sent, FY 2014 vs. FY 2019
(Click for larger image)
Figure 1 displays these change for the ten states that were sent the highest number of ICE detainers so far this fiscal year. Among the top 10 states, the largest drop occurred in Arizona where ICE has issued 35.6 percent fewer detainers. North Carolina also experienced a decline. There detainers issued decreased by 9.7 percent. Numbers for Texas fell by 8 percent. A state-by-state breakdown comparing the monthly number of ICE detainers addressed to law enforcement agencies in each state during FY 2014 versus FY 2019 is shown in Table 2.
Table 2. ICE Detainers Sent to Law Enforcement Agencies by State, FY 2014 vs. FY 2019*
How Many ICE Detainers Are Refused?
Trends in detainer usage, however, only tell part of the story. ICE records whether or not the local law enforcement agency (LEA) that receives an ICE detainer refused to honor it. This year recorded refusals increased 36.9 percent over the recorded refusal level of five years ago. Unfortunately ICE itself has conceded their records are unreliable and may greatly understate actual refusals. Problem areas don't appear to have been rectified. All indications are that the agency still does not require ICE agents to record whether a detainer was refused.
Despite a Presidential Executive Order ICE has failed to publish systematic data on refusal rates. Its first quarterly "Declined Detainer Report" was only recently posted. However, it only covered January - March of 2018 and contained a list of just 16 occasions on which detainers had been refused during this three month period. This compares with 2,828 cases where ICE's own records indicated one of its detainers was refused out of the 42,046 detainers prepared during this period.
Trends on how often the subject of an active detainer is taken into custody by ICE following its issuance of a detainer might provide an indirect and alternative indicator of changing levels of cooperation. The last time ICE released these figures showed that ICE took the individual into custody following the issuance of a detainer less than 40 percent of the time. Unfortunately, since January of 2017 ICE has refused to release even this information in response to TRAC's Freedom of Information Act requests. TRAC is currently seeking a court order to require the agency to provide this data. An evidentiary hearing in this lawsuit took place on August 15, 2019.
Details on 2.4 Million ICE Detainers
Accompanying this report is an online web tool which allows users to examine details on 2.4 million ICE detainers and each law enforcement agency these were sent to. The tool allows users to focus on the most recent months, or examine the entire period from October 2002 through May 2019.
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.
 The recorded refusal rate during FY 2014 was just 6.9 percent or an average of 920 refusals each month. This increased to 9.1 percent in FY 2019 translating into 1,260 refusals on average each month.
 The January 25, 2017 EO stated: "To better inform the public regarding the public safety threats associated with sanctuary jurisdictions, the Secretary shall utilize the Declined Detainer Outcome Report or its equivalent and, on a weekly basis, make public a comprehensive list of criminal actions committed by aliens and any jurisdiction that ignored or otherwise failed to honor any detainers with respect to such aliens."
 ICE initially issued three weekly reports on refused detainers 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. For further discussion, see TRAC's April 2018 report.
 ICE procedures call for ICE to cancel ("lift") a detainer when it is no longer operable.