Federal agents arrested hundreds of immigrants without legal status in at least six states this week in “the first large-scale enforcement of President Trump’s Jan. 26 order to crack down on the estimated 11 million immigrants living here illegally,” the Washington Post is reporting.
But officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), while acknowledging the arrests, say they have nothing to do with Trump’s order.
“ICE regularly conducts targeted enforcement operations during which additional resources and personnel are dedicated to apprehending deportable foreign nationals,” Leticia Zamarripa, the ICE spokeswoman in El Paso, told NMPolitics.net. “…The focus of these operations is no different than the routine, targeted arrests carried out by ICE’s Fugitive Operations Teams on a daily basis.”
As evidence, she pointed to a 2016 action in which more than 100 immigrants were arrested in Los Angeles, and a 2015 action in that city in which more than 240 were arrested. Both raids occurred while Barack Obama, not Donald Trump, was president.
Zamarripa’s comments came in response to a question about whether ICE had conducted any raids in New Mexico or West Texas this week. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has learned that ICE agents arrested two women at the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Courthouse last week, the ACLU’s director in New Mexico, Peter Simonson, told NMPolitics.net. Both women were in court for hearings on drunken driving charges, Simonson said. One has two young daughters and no other criminal history, and was in court on her first DWI charge.
Simonson said he didn’t know the fate of the two women. Such arrests at state and local courts in New Mexico are unusual but have happened before, he said.
Zamarripa didn’t directly answer a question about the arrests of the two women at Metro Court. Because of those arrests, the ACLU plans to send a letter to the New Mexico Supreme Court “urging them to set rules prohibiting ICE from entering” courts here, Simonson said.
The issue is similar to one raised late last month in Oregon, a week after Trump took office. Defense attorneys there told stories about ICE arresting their clients at the state’s busiest courthouse, according to The Oregonian. ICE later said it had not undertaken any new initiative to crackdown at that courthouse.
But Trump’s rhetoric and some of his executive orders — including the Jan. 26 order that expanded the definition of which immigrants without legal status are criminals to be targeted for deportation — have many immigrants and people who work with them on edge.
Trump has said he may deport as many as 3 million immigrants without legal status. The Los Angeles Times estimated that Trump’s orders could target as many as 8 million of the estimated 11 million living in the United States without legal status.
The Washington Post reported Friday that ICE confirmed “that agents this week raided homes and workplaces in Atlanta, Chicago, New York, the Los Angeles area, North Carolina and South Carolina, netting hundreds of people.” But Homeland Security spokeswoman Gillian Christensen was quoted as saying the raids “were part of ‘routine’ immigration enforcement actions.”
Christensen was quoted as saying that immigrants from more than a dozen Latin American countries were arrested. “The majority of those detained were serious criminals, including some who had been convicted of murder and domestic violence,” the article paraphrases Christensen as saying.
From the article:
Immigration activists said the crackdown went beyond the six states DHS identified, and said they had also documented ICE raids of unusual intensity during the past two days in Florida, Kansas, Texas and Northern Virginia.
That undocumented immigrants with no criminal records were arrested and could potentially be deported sent a shock through immigrant communities nationwide amid concerns that the U.S. government could start going after law-abiding people.
“This is clearly the first wave of attacks under the Trump administration, and we know this isn’t going to be the only one,” Cristina Jimenez, executive director of United We Dream, an immigrant youth organization, said Friday during a conference call with immigration advocates.
The raids targeted more than convicted felons. From the article:
David Marin, ICE’s field director in the Los Angeles area, said in a conference call with reporters Friday that 75 percent of the approximately 160 people detained in the operation this week had felony convictions; the rest had misdemeanors or were in the United States illegally. Officials said Friday night that 37 of those detained in Los Angeles has been deported to Mexico.
A video that circulated on social media Friday appeared to show ICE agents detaining people in an Austin shopping center parking lot. Immigration advocates also reported roadway checkpoints, where ICE appeared to be targeting immigrants for random ID checks, in North Carolina and in Austin. ICE officials denied that authorities used checkpoints during the operations.
An Austin city councilor was quoted by the Post as saying he had spoken with a single mother “who had her door knocked on this morning by ICE.” U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, was quoted as saying he had confirmed with ICE that the agency was conducting an operation in Texas. And Hiba Ghalib, an immigration lawyer in Atlanta, said she “had heard reports of ICE agents going door-to-door in one largely Hispanic neighborhood, asking people to present their papers,” the Post reported.
“People are panicking,” Ghalib was quoted as saying. “People are really, really scared.”
The New York Times documented a shift in ICE’s approach this week in Phoenix. Guadalupe García de Rayos had been checking in with ICE agents regularly since being caught using a fake Social Security number in 2008, and they had allowed her to stay in the United States during Obama’s presidency. But on Wednesday — the first time she checked in since Trump became president — Rayos was arrested and deported.
In New Mexico, advocates are concerned about what’s happening. Vicki Gaubeca, director of the ACLU’s Regional Center for Border Rights in Las Cruces, said the organization “heard about raids happening in Southern New Mexico about two weeks ago, but were not able to confirm these.”
“We’re keeping our eyes and ears open,” Gaubeca said.
To back up its claim that the raids were “the first large-scale enforcement of President Trump’s Jan. 26 order,” the Post article states that “Immigration officials acknowledged that authorities had cast a wider net than they would have last year, as the result of Trump’s executive order.”
But ICE continued to push back Friday. ABC News quoted Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly as saying some immigrants were being charged with Social Security fraud for seeking work. Their “luck ran out,” he was quoted as saying, adding that, “All of these people are being ordered out by an immigration judge, and the men and women of ICE are simply executing the law, which is what our job is.”
CNN weighed in this way:
It’s unclear at this point in the nascent administration whether it was a sign of things to come, or whether the actions were conducted under any different procedures than could have been in place under the Obama administration. It was the uncertainty, the publicity of the raids and the high tensions raised by public comments on immigration by Trump administration officials that had Democrats asking for more information.
“These reports show the serious consequences of the president’s executive order, which allows all undocumented immigrants to be categorized as criminals and requires increased enforcement in communities, rather than prioritizing dangerous criminals,” California Sen. Dianne Feinstein said in a statement responding to media reports of the stepped up enforcement, including some accounts that the actions were targeting low-priority undocumented immigrants, including family men and women.
U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., said the president’s “divisive rhetoric and unlawful anti-immigrant policies… are creating chaos and anxiety over what he might do next.”
Heinrich, in a statement to NMPolitics.net, called for a solution “that modernizes our immigration system to meet the needs of our economy, provides an accountable pathway to earned citizenship for the undocumented workers currently living in the shadows — including making the DREAM Act law — and ensures security at our borders.”
Heinrich is sponsoring legislation to protect the data so-called dreamers gave the federal government during Obama’s presidency in exchange for a deferral on deportation and permission to work legally. Heinrich says his aim is to prevent the Trump administration from using that data to locate and deport those who came to the United States as children and were granted the quasi-legal status under Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals executive order.
“We are not a country that kicks out our best and brightest students,” Heinrich said. “And we’re not a nation that tears families apart.”