US immigrant deportations slow despite Trump crackdown

Protesters march against President Donald Trump's immigration policy at a May Day rally in Los Angeles

US deportations of illegal immigrants slowed during the first three months of the Trump administration despite his pledge to step up expulsions.

Data from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) bureau shows that 54,564 people were removed from the country on violations of immigration and other laws in the three months after President Donald trump took office on January 20.

That was a 12 percent fall from the same period a year ago, and more than a third lower than early 2014, even as the Trump administration has stepped up its efforts to arrest undocumented immigrants.

ICE did not explain the slowdown, which continues a trend that began in 2014 under former president Barack Obama, who sought to be more lenient with the cases of immigrants who were not violent criminals.

But data from TRAC Immigration, an independent group, shows that immigration courts have become overwhelmed with deportation cases.

Pending cases have jumped by around 100,000 to nearly 540,000 since the end of 2015. The average case takes around 600 days to be resolved, after a long wait to begin proceedings.

Trump has promised to expel many of the more than 11 million people living illegally in the country, even though many have been here for decades and have homes, families and long-term jobs.

The Trump administration says its focus is on criminal illegal aliens, particularly those involved in violent gangs and the drug trade. Slightly more than half of those deported since January 20 were criminals, similar to the ratio under Obama.

However, last week the Washington Post reported that about half of the 675 immigrants detained in the weeks following Trump's inauguration were people with no criminal conviction or with only traffic offenses.

ICE said that 90 percent of the 163 picked up with traffic offenses had been convicted of drunk driving, which ICE considers makes them a public safety threat and deserving of deportation.