(CNN)A growing percentage of immigrants arrested by the Trump administration don't have criminal convictions on their records, even though officials have repeatedly said arresting criminals is their priority.
Trump administration arresting noncriminal immigrants in increasing numbers, new figures show
In the first half of fiscal year 2018, which began in October, 34% of the more than 79,000 immigrants arrested in routine operations by Immigration and Customs Enforcement were noncriminals, while 66% were convicted criminals, according to statistics released Thursday by the agency. In the same time period the previous year -- which spanned the last few months of the Obama administration and the first few months of the Trump administration -- 21% of the nearly 63,000 immigrants arrested by ICE were noncriminals and 79% were convicted criminals.
During the first year of Trump's presidency, 30% of immigrants arrested were noncriminals and 70% were convicted criminals.
Days after being inaugurated, one of Trump's first actions was to give immigration agents wide discretion over who to go after, allowing them to target almost any undocumented immigrant as a priority.
Corey Price, assistant director for enforcement at ICE, told reporters that public safety threats and people who've committed crimes remain the focus of arrests. But the administration has broadened its approach.
"If somebody has violated our immigration laws, they're priorities now," he said.
On Thursday, officials noted the number of people arrested and removed by ICE had grown. That figure -- an indicator of an uptick in enforcement in the interior of the United States -- increased more than 25%, from just over 36,000 people in the first six months of last fiscal year to more than 45,000 in the first six months of this fiscal year.
Still, the overall total of removals, which includes deportations as well as people apprehended at the border and sent back, are down almost 7% compared to the same time period last year. Since October, ICE removed more than 117,000 people from the United States. In the same time period the previous year, the agency removed 125,607 people.
The statistics released Thursday are in line with previous figures indicating that immigration arrests have grown under the Trump administration, but deportations have lagged behind.