EXCLUSIVE: Internal communications by Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials, obtained by Fox News Digital, give a glimpse into a protracted delay of a much-anticipated Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) report, which outlined the numbers of arrests and deportations of illegal immigrants and had been expected at the end of 2021 — but was not released until deep into 2022.
ICE’s annual report for FY 2021, which would show a sharp decline in the number of arrests and deportations of illegal immigrants under the Biden administration, was expected at the end of 2021 — but was not released until March 11, 2022.
The failure to release the report by the end of the calendar year sparked accusations that DHS was trying to hide the impact of the administration’s policies. DHS denied this was the case and told Fox in early January that the report was in final review and its release was expected later that month.
But emails and text messages, obtained by a Freedom of Information Act request and given to Fox News Digital, show how ICE officials were expecting a release any day in early January — but kept getting hit by delay after delay.
‘The rollout and report are back w/DHS, We now wait!’ one text from an ICE official from Jan. 20, nearly two months before the report was released, said.
On Dec. 23, 2021, officials discussed waiting for end of year numbers to be approved, adding that timing ‘might be next week, might be first week of January’ and that approvals were still ongoing.
However, even after the first week of January, ICE officials still believed it was imminent and were prodding for a DHS signoff.
‘The annual report going up to DHS tonight for final sign-off with direction that we’ll push yet this week,’ a redacted official said.
The communications show how, at times, staff worked late into the night preparing graphics and coordinating on text. Frustration came through with the combinations of delays and edits.
‘I’m pissed’ one texted, to which another replied ‘#Same’
On January 14, the report comes up again in communications, and shows that the report is being tinkered with ahead of being given to DHS’ Office of Public Affairs. Six days later, texts indicate that again ICE officials are expecting an imminent release, with an official asking ‘do we have any indication that the annual report would release tmrw’ — but another tamps down expectations that it would be released the following day.
‘Will not be tomorrow, roll [out] plan is not close to going to [Front Office]. Will need to go to counselors and [Office of General Counsel] for review before I can get it to FO. my hope is to send it to them by EOD tomorrow.’
The same day, an ICE official indicates that the ball is now officially in DHS’ court.
‘The rollout and report are back w/DHS,’ the first official replies. ‘We now wait!’
That communication was on Jan. 20, and the eventual report would not be released until March 11.
On Jan. 24, what appears to be a DHS official texting an ICE official seeking ‘numbers’ — believed to be arrest and deportation numbers — for ‘S1.’ S1 typically refers to the secretary, in this case Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
The official says that they were asked to get the numbers so that Mayorkas can have them in front of him at an unspecified meeting.
‘I’m going to look at the annual report tomorrow morning, will want to make sure we’re on the same page with numbers,’ the DHS official says.
‘We have no other pages,’ the ICE official responds with a smile emoji. ‘Those are the numbers.’
On the same day, an official asks if another has time ‘to talk through the rollout for annual report’ and mentions that a reporter — whose name is redacted — is ‘getting exclusive?’
The other official queries whether that reporter is indeed getting an exclusive on the much-sought after numbers.
‘Maybe I mistook [redacted] saying [redacted] is getting before everyone else so he could use the numbers for his [Mayorkas] story,’ the first official says.
‘He is — but he won’t post until later this week I think. We are trying to get the report cleared soonest,’ the other says, indicating that they again expect the report to be released imminently.
The report was still not released.
On Feb. 15, an official texts that the report was sent to a top official for a ‘final blessing.’
‘Likely tmrw,’ they say. The next few days show final tweakings, including a revised quote from what appears to be ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) Deputy Director Corey Price to be reviewed.
Still the report is not released.
On March 3, over a week before the report was actually released, an official texts that they were told to touch base on the annual report.
An official responds that it is ‘on hold due to [redacted] vote. So Sorry!’
That vote appears to be referring to the doomed confirmation vote for ICE nominee Ed Gonzalez. His vote was eventually pulled in the Senate, and he later withdrew from consideration. However, the text shows how political considerations played into the release of the report.
Fox reached out to ICE and DHS about the contents of the communications. An ICE spokesperson told Fox that they had nothing else to add.
The report, when finally released, showed how ICE ERO arrested just 74,082 noncitizens in FY 2021, and deported just 59,011.
That is down dramatically from prior years. In FY 2020, there were 103,603 arrests and 185,884 removals. In FY 2019 the agency arrested 143,099 illegal immigrants and deported 267,258.
The report immediately drew additional criticism about the Biden administration’s narrowed ICE priorities — which made officers focus on recent border crossers, national security threats and ‘aggravated felons.’ The report touted what it saw as a success of the policy in that it claimed that arrests of aggravated felons had doubled over the prior year. Those priorities have since been blocked by a federal court and will be decided by the Supreme Court next year.
Jon Feere, a former ICE chief of staff during the Trump administration, told Fox News Digital that he believes the administration was trying to ‘cook’ data that was politically unfriendly to the administration — and pushed back against the ‘aggravated felon’ claims.
‘Much of the information that Biden has allowed ICE to publish is entirely phony and designed to mislead. For example, ICE has not historically recorded so-called ‘aggravated felony’ data, but the Biden admin cooked the books and claimed that they’ve arrested more aggravated felons than the Trump administration. Everyone at ICE knows this is entirely phony,’ he said. ‘Officers never recorded this metric in prior years, so comparisons are nonsense. The better data which shows the total criminal records of those arrested has not been published because it would show a dramatic decrease in arrests of criminal aliens over the past two years.’
‘Large reports are challenging, but I have to believe the delay in publishing this report was due to the Biden administration struggling to find a way to cook the data and create a dishonest narrative,’ he said. ‘This administration is a criminal alien’s best friend.’