New federal data showing a spike in Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrests during President Donald Trump's first 100 days reinforces the need for increased legal services funding in Mayor Bill de Blasio's 2018 budget, according to activists and attorneys.
Nationally, ICE arrests jumped nearly 40 percent between January and April: 41,318 people, up from 30,028 people between January 24th and April 30th, 2016. More than 400 people have been arrested daily since Trump took office, according to ICE. Of the total arrested, more than 25 percent have no criminal record. Last year, about 14 percent of arrested individuals had no criminal record.
In New York State, arrests are also trending up. Overall arrests increased about 31 percent, from 523 to 687. Within that group, non-criminal arrests more than doubled, from 77 to 156.
"No one should be fooled by Donal Trump and Jeff Sessions' attempts to label our mothers, fathers, cousins and neighbors as criminals," said Make the Road co-director Javier Valdes in a statement.
The increase in arrests of non-criminals comes in the wake of Trump guidelines that vastly expanded deportation priorities, superseding efforts under President Barack Obama to focus enforcement on convicted felons and individuals on terrorism watch lists. Though President Trump said on the campaign trial that he would focus on removing "criminals" from the country, the definition of criminal has been broadly expanded to include any person who is in the United States without a visa.
In New York, many of the non-criminal arrests have been non-citizens taken in during regular ICE check-ins, according to the New York Immigration Coalition.
"Our focus is: arrests are up, we need more lawyers," said Camille Mackler, director of legal initiatives for the NYIC. "Our ask is $16.4 million from the mayor plus $5 million from the City Council."
— NYIC (@thenyic) May 22, 2017
Announcing his executive budget last month, de Blasio highlighted $16.4 million to fund legal representation for non-citizen defendants facing deportation in immigration court. But the funding is conditional, excluding New Yorkers who have been convicted of any of 170 felonies deemed "violent and serious." These same 170 felonies—including burglary and drug possession in the first and second degree as well as rape, murder and arson—exempt immigrants, including green card holders, from New York City's sanctuary provisions.
Advocates and members of the City Council, some of whom rallied for more funding outside City Hall this morning, have argued that these parameters will hinder due process for immigrants with particularly complex cases.
"At the end of the day it's not about drawing some arbitrary line in deciding who to help, it's making a system that's fundamentally unfair less unfair," Mackler said.
Mackler also noted that ICE's criminal category is even broader than New York City's 170-felony list. Historically, "What they've lumped into criminal arrests are things that aren't violent, things that don't pose a risk. Like driving without a license."
Mayor Bill de Blasio expressed surprise at the latest ICE statistics for New York, first reported by Crain's.
Speaking on WNYC's Brian Lehrer on Friday, de Blasio said that he planned to speak with Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly about the trend. "I want to know what this means and I'm going to press him further on that," he said.
Overall ICE arrests are still well below 2014 levels, both locally and nationally. That year-to-date, 1,458 people were arrested in New York, more than double 2017 levels. Nationally, 54,584 people were arrested in the first months of 2014, about 30 percent more than this year.
The mayor's office and the City Council did not immediately respond to requests for comment on advocates' call for increased funding with no exclusions.
ICE did not immediately comment on the increase in non-criminal arrests.
A spokesperson told Crain's last week that, "ICE focuses its enforcement resources first on individuals who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security. However, as Secretary Kelly has made clear, ICE will no longer exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement. All of those in violation of immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention, and if found removable by final order, removal from the United States."
[Update 5/23]: “We appreciate the critical need for immigration deportation defense legal services, which is why we baselined $16 million in the executive budget, allowing the City to serve 15,000 immigrants this year," a City Hall spokesman stated. "We look forward to working with the Council as we move forward in the budget process.”