Since the very beginning of his path to and through the White House, Donald Trump has slandered undocumented people migrating across the Mexico-US border as “bringing drugs” and “crime.”
Evidence demonstrates that illegal drugs are most commonly brought through official ports of entry, not illegal border crossings. Yet the president has used false claims to justify his crackdown on undocumented people in the US; he claimed, just after winning the 2016 election, that up to 3 million such people “are criminal and have criminal records, gang members, drug dealers.”
As of spring 2019, the people in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody did not reflect Trump’s goal. Instead, the majority (64 percent, or 31,778 people) had no past criminal convictions at all, according to newly published data obtained by Syracuse University’s TRAC, a non-partisan research organization.
Released on November 26, the report shows that fewer than 1 percent of all people in ICE custody as of April 30, 2019 had the “most serious criminal conviction,” as TRAC describes it, of drug trafficking.
Texas leads the country with the largest ICE detainee population, housing around 29 percent of everyone in immigration detention facilities—and the state’s numbers highlight how far from reality Trump’s claims have been. It’s not just the fact that three-quarters of Texas ICE detainees have no past convictions.
In January 2019, Trump insisted that people illegally moving across the Southern Border are pushing drugs like fentanyl, the opioid adulterating the illicit drug supply and contributing to the drug-death crisis. In April, he claimed that his administration is “stopping the drug flow” through its draconian immigration policies.
Yet the TRAC data shows that the most common drug-related conviction for Texas ICE detainees is for the possession of prescription medicines that are not controlled substances nor listed in the state’s penalty groups—a misdemeanor.
These convictions, which 107 ICE detainees in Texas had as of April, do not involve offenses related to strictly controlled prescription drugs, such as opioids like OxyContin or benzodiazepines like Xanax. Rather, drugs like anti-depressants, antibiotics and steroids fall into this category, statutorily described as “dangerous drugs” by Texas. Texas is one of the few states to use this designation for such substances, as the Texas Medical Board points out; one Texas criminal defense lawyer has described this as “confusing.”
Possession of marijuana, “drugs” and cocaine are, respectively, the next most common convictions in the TRAC data, with the number of drug trafficking convictions trailing even farther behind.
Graphic of the total number of detainees with and without criminal convictions held by ICE at end of April 2019 by TRAC.