U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents arrested more than 600 immigrants in the past week as part of a nationwide enforcement surge targeting people with criminal histories.
ICE has described the nationwide operations as “routine, daily, targeted operations” targeting “public safety threats” like criminal immigrants, gang members, and people who have been previously deported.
But immigration activists say this week’s raids aren’t limited to safety threats — they have also targeted people who have changed their lives around and contributed to their communities, as well as people without proper documentation who have been swept up in “collateral” arrests but have not committed any other crimes. In one case, the ICE agency charged one immigrant as a “gang member” because of old speeding tickets and tattoos.
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Enforcement operations took place simultaneously across 11 states, including California, North Carolina, South Carolina, New York, Virginia, Illinois, Kansas, Indiana, Wisconsin, Kentucky, and Missouri.
Western region ICE officials said that 161 immigrants were detained in the Los Angeles area across six counties. Other agents arrested 40 people in the New York City area, according to an ICE fact sheet. And more than 200 immigrants were arrested in Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Kansas, and Missouri, said an unnamed ICE spokesperson.
Although an ICE spokesperson told ThinkProgress via email that the enforcement operation concluded on February 10th, there’s some evidence the raids continued through the weekend. A source driving on Interstate 66 near Centreville, Virginia said that he had seen seven cop cars stopping a van with a group of Latino men as late as Saturday afternoon.
The Republican president was quick to take credit for the crackdown on his twitter account. The ICE agency, on the other hand, says the recent sweeps were not a direct result of the Republican president’s policies.
David Marin, ICE’s director of Enforcement and Removal Operations in Los Angeles, said on a press call on February 10th that last week’s enforcement operation was in the works before the Republican president took office. He emphasized that the operations were “normal” and “on par” with other raids carried out two to three times a year in the name of public safety. The New York Times also reported that the New York operation was “part of a national action that was planned several weeks ago.”
Immigration sweeps were routine under President Barack Obama, who earned the title “deporter-in-chief” from activists who criticized his decision to carry out millions of deportations throughout his two terms in office.
But activists worry that this particularly large sweep, conducted just a few weeks after the 45th president took office, is a sign of how aggressive the president will be toward undocumented immigrants throughout the country.
Thousands of people have taken to the streets in cities like Los Angeles, New York City, and Milwaukee to protest the raids on immigrant communities.
“I must say that, despite all the fear, we’ve seen our communities taking a stand with a determination to protect our families, our homes and our values,” said Cristina Jiménez, Executive Director & Co-Founder of United We Dream, in a recent press call discussing the deportations. “It is the same courage and resilience which propelled us to come to this country in the first place. We have seen allies – over 20,000 non-immigrants so far – register with the #HereToStay Network to defend immigrants. As someone who has undocumented parents and a brother who has DACA, I want to make it very clear that we are all under attack, and so there is no sitting on the sidelines.”
The Republican president’s recent executive orders on immigration policy broadened the spectrum of crimes that can be punished by deportation, sparking concern among immigrants, advocates, and city officials who worry that more people will be rounded up even if they don’t have serious criminal histories. One of the Republican president’s first deportations, for example, was an undocumented mother of two U.S. citizen children who had lived in the country for more than two decades. And Los Angeles-based ICE officials said that five immigrants without criminal records were detained this past week because of their undocumented status.
The 45th president orders also deputize local law enforcement immigration officials to detain immigrants suspected of being in the country illegally and hold them for possible deportation proceedings on behalf of the federal government.
“While it is true that ICE enforces the law every day, to justify this as ordinary and routine is insulting to us,” stated Angelica Salas, Executive Director of CHIRLA. “They are attacking our families and targeting everyone who is undocumented. Let us not be fooled by the Trump Administration’s false depictions of immigrants. These deportation sweeps are creating great harm in our communities and separating families. It must stop.”