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Spotlight on Immigration Enforcement in the United States

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Spotlight on Immigration Enforcement in the United States

Source Spotlights are often updated as new data become available. Please click here to find the most recent version of this Spotlight.

Drawing from the Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, published by the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Office of Immigration Statistics (OIS), this Spotlight provides data on apprehensions, detentions, and removals of unauthorized noncitizens in the United States as of 2005.

Click on the bullet points below for more information:

Background

Special Note
Apprehension and removal data gathered by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) count events, not individuals. In some cases, individuals may be apprehended or placed through removal proceedings more than once in any given year.

Unless otherwise noted, all data are from the DHS Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, 2005. All yearly data is for the government's fiscal year (October 1 through September 30).

For purposes of simplicity and comparability, this article mostly draws on data subsequent to the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA), which went into effect in 1997.

 

Apprehensions

Detentions

Recent Developments
 
Initiatives since 2005:

 

The Secure Border Initiative. Unveiled by DHS on November 2, 2005, the Secure Border Initiative (SBI) is a multiyear plan of action aimed at securing America's borders and reducing illegal immigration. Read more about the Secure Border Initiative.

SBInet. SBInet is a new DHS program that aims to integrate traditional and enhanced security systems to transform border control through technology and infrastructure. Read more about SBInet in the December 2006 Policy Beat and the DHS Fact Sheet.

The Secure Fence Act of 2006. The Secure Fence Act, signed into law in October 2006, authorizes the construction of new infrastructure along the southern border. Read the text of the Secure Fence Act.

 

FY 2006 DHS Actions



In 2006, DHS ended the practice of "catch and release" for non-Mexican migrants. During the same year, DHS created a national center to follow through on criminal alien deportations after such individuals complete their sentences.

Approximately 6,000 National Guard personnel were deployed to the Southwest border over the summer of 2006 to provide intelligence, surveillance, training, and logistical assistance to the Border Patrol. Guard members assist with security but have no direct involvement in law enforcement efforts. Read more about the National Guard deployment in the June 2006 Policy Beat.

 

FY 2008 Budget Request



President Bush's FY 2008 budget request for DHS includes $13 billion for border controls and interior enforcement funding, which is an increase over the 2007 level. Read more about the president's budget request in the February 2007 Policy Beat.

 

Removals

Background

Immigration enforcement entails locating, arresting, detaining, and removing non-U.S. citizens (including lawful permanent residents) in violation of immigration laws.

Immigration enforcement entails locating, arresting, detaining, and removing non-U.S. citizens (including lawful permanent residents) who violate the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) of 1952, as well as those who attempt illegal entry, enter without authorization, or those who enter legally but later lose their legal status.

The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) of 1996, which amended INA, dramatically changed previous enforcement procedures, categories, and definitions, especially pertaining to detention and removals. For information on INA amendments, visit the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website.

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Immigration enforcement activities are carried out by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Since the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2003, two bureaus within DHS have been responsible for immigration enforcement: Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Most immigration enforcement activities fall under four main categories: border patrol, inspections, investigations, and detention and removal. CBP, which oversees enforcement at and between ports of entry, handles border patrol and inspections.

ICE is responsible for enforcing immigration laws within the interior of the United States. Investigations are a part of ICE operations. While the Office of Detention and Removal (DRO) is officially part of ICE, services are also contracted out to CBP.

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The Border Patrol is responsible for enforcing border areas between legal ports of entry.

CBP Border Patrol officers are responsible for enforcing 8,000 miles of U.S. land and water boundaries between legal ports of entry (designated points where immigration officials can regulate entry). The goal of the Border Patrol is to maintain a presence along border areas in order to prevent individuals, such as criminals and unauthorized migrants, from entering U.S. territory outside official ports.

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Inspectors verify admissibility of entrants to the United States at official ports of entry.

CBP inspectors verify admissibility of entrants to the United States at official ports of entry, such as a land-border crossing or airport. If an individual is deemed inadmissible, the inspector has the authority to allow a person to withdraw his or her application for entry, refer the case to a formal removal hearing, or, in some instances, to order removal themselves under a process called "expedited removal" (more on expedited removal here).

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Investigators apprehend unauthorized immigrants in the interior of the United States.

ICE investigators apprehend unauthorized immigrants in the interior of the United States through formal investigations similar to those of other law enforcement agencies. Investigators often work in task force teams.

The five major categories of investigations are criminal, worksite enforcement (employment of unauthorized workers), fraud, smuggling (of unauthorized migrants), and investigations of those who entered without inspection or lost their legal status.

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Detention and removal officers are responsible for the custody and tracking of individuals in removal proceedings.

ICE detention and removal officers are responsible for the custody and tracking of individuals in removal proceedings. This includes ensuring the individual's basic needs are provided for, removal procedures are carried out appropriately, and detainees are delivered to the proper authorities in their home country.

View the charts depicting trends in immigration enforcement spending (for border patrol, interior investigations, detention and removal) between 1985 and 2002 here.

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Apprehensions

Immigrants are apprehended (arrested) when found to be in violation of immigration laws.

Immigrants are apprehended (arrested) when found to be in violation of immigration laws, when attempting illegal entry, or when found to have overstayed or violated conditions of their immigration status. Violators are apprehended through Border Patrol or investigation activities.

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In 2005, DHS immigration officials made over one million apprehensions.

According to DHS, immigration officials made 1,291,142 apprehensions in 2005, 22 percent more than in 2002.

Note: Apprehensions are events, not individuals. In other words, the same individual can be apprehended more than once.

Figure 1. Total Number of Apprehensions and Apprehensions by Program (thousands), 1996 to 2005

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The Border Patrol accounted for about 92 percent of all apprehensions in 2005.

The Border Patrol made 92 percent (1,189,108) of all apprehensions in 2005, while investigations in the interior were responsible for only eight percent of apprehensions. Of the Border Patrol apprehensions, 99 percent (1,171,428) occurred along the Southwest border.

Apprehensions along the Southwest border have increased since 2004.

There are a total of 21 Border Patrol sectors along both the northern and southern borders. Nine of these sectors are along the Southwest border: two in California, five in Texas, and two in Arizona (see Map).

 

Map of Border Patrol Sectors
Source: U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Performance and Annuals Report, FY 2004.



Apprehensions along the Southwest border increased 3 percent between 2004 (1,139,282) and 2005 (1,171,428). Since 1996, the highest number of apprehensions in Southwest sectors was in 2000 (1,643,679) and the lowest was in 2003 (905,065).

The Tucson sector account for more Border Patrol apprehensions than any other sector.

Five of the nine Southwest sectors accounted for 81 percent (961,314) of all border apprehensions. These five sectors were Tucson, Arizona; Yuma, Arizona; McAllen, Texas; San Diego, California; and El Paso, Texas.

The Tucson sector accounted for 37 percent (439,090) of the 1.2 million Border Patrol apprehensions in 2005, followed by Yuma, Arizona (138,438); McAllen, Texas (134,188); San Diego, California (126,909); and El Paso, Texas (122,689) (see Figure 2).

 

Figure 2. Border Patrol Apprehensions by Sectors, 2005
Source: U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, Enforcement, 2005.

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Mexican citizens accounted for 85 percent of all apprehensions in 2005.

Mexican citizens accounted for the majority of apprehensions in 2005 with 1,097,471 (85 percent) of the 1.3 million apprehensions. Citizens of Honduras and El Salvador — the next largest two countries of origin — accounted for 4 percent (55,775) and 3 percent (42,884), respectively.

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Detentions

Individuals who are apprehended and not released from custody are kept in detention facilities.

ICE detains individuals who are apprehended and not released from custody. Since the implementation of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA), in 1997, detention has become mandatory for cases classified as "criminal."

In some instances, individuals may be detained indefinitely because they are considered a threat to national security or because their country of origin will not accept responsibility for them. Persons appealing a removal decision or applying for asylum status may also be detained until their cases are settled.

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In 2005, immigration officials detained nearly a quarter of a million individuals.

Immigration officials detained about 237,667 individuals in 2005. The number of individuals in detention increased 14 percent from 209,000 in 2001 to 237,667 in 2005.

The daily average number of detainees was 19,619 (see Table 1).

 

Table 1. Detentions, 2003 and 2005
  2003 2005
Total number detained 231,500 237,667
Average daily detention population 21,133 19,619
Percent of bed days by nationality
Mexico 22% 24%
Honduras 7% 9%
Guatemala 6% 8%
El Salvador 7% 8%
Cuba 8% 5%
People’s Republic of China 5% 4%
Brazil 3% 3%
Dominican Republic 3% 3%
Haiti 4% 3%
Jamaica 3% 3%

Note: "Bed day" refers to when a detainee stays a full day, including overnight, at the detention facility.

Source: U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, 2003 and 2005.



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Nationals from Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador accounted for about one in every two bed days in 2005.

Individuals from Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador accounted for 49 percent of all bed days in 2005. Those from Mexico alone accounted for nearly a quarter of all bed days, while Hondurans were second with 9 percent.

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Removals

Removal proceedings are usually conducted during immigration hearings that involve judges from the Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR).

Removal proceedings are usually conducted during immigration hearings that involve judges from the Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR) under the Department of Justice (DOJ), as well as prosecutors from DHS. Individuals in proceedings may be represented by attorneys at their own expense and may also appeal the court's decision through the DOJ's Board of Immigration Appeals.

Individuals seeking asylum in the United States may make an asylum claim during removal proceedings. Penalties for those who are found to violate immigration laws can include fines, jail time, and restriction of future admission.

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The two basic types of removal are voluntary departure and formal removal.

Voluntary departures are most common among noncriminal cases where the Border Patrol has made the apprehension. Through voluntary departure proceedings, individuals waive their rights to a formal hearing and agree to pay removal expenses. By doing so, they can reapply for admittance without consequence.

Formal removals are most commonly decided by an immigration judge for more severe INA and criminal violations, such as illegal entry, drug smuggling, felony crimes, controlled substance violations, and prostitution/solicitation.

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An expedited removal is a type of formal removal ordered by an inspector at the time of attempted entry.

An expedited removal is a type of formal removal used for those who attempt to enter with improper or fraudulent documents. An inspector orders the expedited removal; the individual is not allowed to consult legal counsel or present his claim before an immigration judge.

Any person subject to expedited removal who raises a claim for asylum — or expresses fear of removal — is given the opportunity to explain his or her fears to an asylum officer in a credible fear interview.

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There were a total of 1,174,059 removals in 2005.

In 2005, 316,898 individuals withdrew their applications (when presented with evidence of their inadmissibility), and 1,174,059 were removed. Of all removals, 82 percent (965,538) were voluntary departures, 12 percent (135,610) were nonexpedited removals, and 6 percent (72,911) were expedited removals (see Figure 3).

Note: Removals are events, not individuals. In other words, the same individual can be removed more than once in the same year.

Figure 3. Removals: Total, Voluntary Departures, Formal (Expedited and Nonexpedited) Removals, 1995 to 2005 (in thousands)

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Voluntary departures accounted for fewer removals in 2005 than in 1995.

Although voluntary departure was by far the most common removal procedure in 2005 (82 percent of the total), the share of voluntary departures has dropped since 1995, when they made up 96 percent of all removals.

Almost all voluntary departures (99 percent) involved individuals whom the Border Patrol apprehended.

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Formal removals increased 12 percent between 2000 and 2005.

Formal removals increased by 12 percent from 186,391 in 2000 to 208,521 in 2005.

The administrative reason is the legal basis for formal removal. The most common administrative reason in 2005 was "attempted entry without proper documents" (75,532), followed by "present without authorization" (72,229), "criminal violations" (40,018), and "previously removed, not eligible for reentry" (18,203) (see Figure 4).

Figure 4. Formal Removals by Administrative Reason, 1996 to 2005

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Mexican citizens accounted for nearly seven of every 10 formal removals in 2005.

The majority of individuals formally removed in 2005 were Mexican citizens (144,840 of 208,521, or 69 percent). The next-largest source countries were Honduras (7 percent) and Guatemala (6 percent).

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Expedited removals accounted for more than a third of formal removals in 2005.

Expedited removals accounted for 35 percent (72,911) of formal removals in 2005. The share of expedited removals as a percentage of formal removals fluctuated between 1997 and 2005, peaking in 1999 (49 percent of the 181,194 formal removals) and bottoming out in 1997 (20 percent of the 114,432 formal removals).