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Trump's ICE Deportations Are Up From Obama's Figures, Data Show


You know, we hear a lot about Mexican and Central American immigrants picked up and deported by officers from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. But our colleague John Burnett has been digging into the statistics from 2017, focusing on other countries from the Middle East to Africa to Asia. And it turns out deportations to many of those countries increased sharply in President Trump's first year compared to the year before. John joins us from Austin, Texas.

Hey there, John.


GREENE: So as you've been crunching these numbers, what exactly is standing out to you here?

BURNETT: Well, we know in recent years the same poor countries dominate deportations - Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. They do account for 9 out of 10 deportations. But the interesting news is in the other 186 countries in the list.

The number of deportees from other nations rose 24 percent in Trump's first year, really big increases from all sorts of foreign nationals around the globe who were living in the U.S. illegally. Deportations to Brazil and China jumped. Removals of Somalis nearly doubled. Deportations to Ghana and West Africa are up more than two times.

The biggest increase is Haiti. The number of deported Haitians soared from 300 in 2016 to more than 5,500 last year. And the reason is that thousands of Haitians who'd been living in South America rushed to the U.S.-Mexico border and crossed at California and Arizona. They mistakenly thought they could get humanitarian relief. But that wasn't the case. They got locked up and then deported.

GREENE: So you're really getting beneath the headlines here because there have been headlines about how the overall number of deportations under President Trump actually went down. But you're focusing on these other countries. And where you dig deeply, you see this increase. So explain that for us, if you can.

BURNETT: Right. Well, first of all, the overall deportations went down because fewer people, mainly from Latin America, were trying to cross the southwest border. They call it the Trump effect. So we're talking about the other 10 percent here.

And I think there are two things that are happening for the jump in deportations. First, so-called recalcitrant countries that used to refuse to accept deportees from the U.S. are now repatriating them. And the Trump administration is proud of this. And they feel like it's an untold story that they made these agreements with these countries.

So we're seeing big increases of deportees to places like Somalia, Guinea, Cuba, Bangladesh, Iraq, Afghanistan. For instance, with Iraq, the administration took it off the travel ban list in return for the country agreeing to repatriate its people. And the second thing I think that's going on is ICE agents are just more aggressive, as we've reported all last year.

Here's Jessica Vaughan. She's policy director for the Center for Immigration Studies, which supports Trump's get tough immigration policies.

JESSICA VAUGHAN: Interior enforcement has been stepped up under the Trump administration. And so they are encountering more targets for deportation who are visa overstays. And they come from all over the world.

BURNETT: So these visa overstays are a big problem. I mean, more travelers overstay their visitors' visas - there were more than 600,000 in 2016 - than cross the border illegally.

GREENE: And what is ICE saying about that? Is that a big priority for them to go after these visa overstays?

BURNETT: It is. ICE has been wanting to crack down on those for a while. And Trump has, again, you know, taken the shackles off. ICE said in a statement to NPR, it apprehends all those in violation of immigration laws regardless of national origin.

GREENE: OK. So, John, how are these countries reacting to these numbers?

BURNETT: As far as I can tell, Ireland is the most concerned. They only had 34 Irish sent home last year, which is tiny compared to more than 100,000 Mexicans deported. But they estimate there's up to 50,000 Irish visa overstays living in the U.S. illegally. So the government of Ireland has actually appointed a special envoy to the U.S. Congress to figure out a legislative fix to find a path to legalization for the undocumented Irish living here and get more work visas.

Let's listen to Fionnuala Quinlan. She's Ireland's consul-general in Boston talking about the Irish community there.

FIONNUALA QUINLAN: There's such widespread, you know, fear in the community. And of course, you know, I mean, the impact for people who have to live in the shadows, you know, nervousness around driving. There can be issues with isolation because people are increasingly afraid to, you know, go out and, of course, the difficulty of not being able to return home.

BURNETT: So NPR did reach out to a couple dozen embassies. And we heard from the Hungarian Embassy and said that they've put a page up on their website warning Hungarians, the U.S. Immigration Police are out in force. And you overstay your visa at your own peril.

GREENE: Interesting stuff. NPR's John Burnett reporting.

John, thanks.

BURNETT: Sure, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Southwest correspondent based in Austin, Texas, John Burnett covers immigration, border affairs, Texas news and other national assignments. In 2018, 2019 and again in 2020, he won national Edward R. Murrow Awards from the Radio-Television News Directors Association for continuing coverage of the immigration beat. In 2020, Burnett along with other NPR journalists, were finalists for a duPont-Columbia Award for their coverage of the Trump Administration's Remain in Mexico program. In December 2018, Burnett was invited to participate in a workshop on Refugees, Immigration and Border Security in Western Europe, sponsored by the RIAS Berlin Commission.