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Story highlights

The number of non-criminal undocumented immigrants arrested more than doubled the number the last two years

Trump has made aggressive immigration enforcement a centerpiece of his presidency

Washington CNN —  

The number of undocumented immigrant arrests rose by roughly one-third in the first weeks of the Trump administration, largely driven by an increase in the number of non-criminals arrested.

Immigrations and Customs Enforcement removal authorities made 21,362 arrests from January 20 to March 13 of this year, including 5,441 non-criminals, according to statistics provided to CNN and first requested by The Washington Post.

While the arrests by ICE under President Donald Trump in the first seven weeks of his administration still lag behind the number arrested under former President Barack Obama in the same timeframe in 2014, the pace of arrests this year do mark an escalation compared to the last two years of the Obama administration, when the Democrat used greater discretion toward undocumented immigrants.

The increase in arrests – including more than double the number of non-criminal indviduals – stands as further evidence of the Trump administration’s priority of enforcing immigration laws more aggressively than the previous administration and giving immigration officials greater authority to go after a wide range of undocumented immigrants.

The more than 21,000 arrested in the beginning of this year is a roughly 33% increase over the same period in 2016 and a roughly 18% increase over the same period in 2015.

But the 5,441 non-criminal undocumented immigrants arrested as part of that total more than doubled the number in either 2015 or 2016.

In the first part of 2014, the Obama administration made 29,238 such arrests, including 7,483 non-criminal undocumented immigrants, which is roughly the same percentage of non-criminal arrests as this year.

In the first six years of the Obama administration, the former president was accused by liberals of deporting undocumented immigrants too aggressively, but Obama sought to show he was enforcing immigration laws as he and lawmakers pursued a comprehensive immigration reform deal in Congress. When talks collapsed in the House in mid-2014 and it became clear immigration reform would not pass Congress, Obama began to take more executive action to focus his administration on undocumented immigrants that were the greatest threat to communities and show more leniency to those who were not.

The Department of Homeland Security in late 2014 published a new set of priorities for going after undocumented immigrants for deportation – which placed greater emphasis on those convicted of serious crimes.

One of Trump’s first actions as President was to replace those priorities with a new set that could include virtually every undocumented immigrant in the US. The message from DHS since has been that no one in the US illegally will be exempt from deportation.

While Kelly said on Sunday’s “Meet the Press” that just being in the US “illegally doesn’t necessarily get you targeted, it’s got to be something else,” ICE has said that individuals encountered in the course of targeted arrests of people prioritized for removal can also be arrested and subject to deportation.

Opponents of Trump’s aggressive immigration push have argued that his policies have created harmful fear in immigrant communities, where many individuals have US citizen family members and have lived and worked peacefully in the US for years.