Wall Street Journal
By Miriam Jordan
February 13, 2017
U.S. authorities said Monday that immigration agents had apprehended more than 680 people in enforcement operations that spanned several regions of the country last week.
The Department of Homeland Security reported that a five-day enforcement “surge” in the metropolitan areas of Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, New York and San Antonio, among others, as well as in six Southern California counties, had resulted in the arrests of people unlawfully in the U.S. who pose a threat to public safety, border security or the integrity of the nation’s immigration system.
In a statement, Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said that among those arrested, approximately 75% were criminals convicted of offenses “including, but not limited to, homicide, aggravated sexual abuse, sexual assault of a minor, lewd and lascivious acts with a child, indecent liberties with a minor, drug trafficking, battery, assault, DUI and weapons charges.”
Nearly 200 immigrants were detained in Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina, according to federal officials, plus another 235 in Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Kansas and Missouri. Officials said they detained 161 in Los Angeles and surrounding areas; 41 in the five boroughs of New York City and surrounding areas, and 51 in the San Antonio area.
Immigrant advocacy organizations accused the Trump administration of unleashing a policy that is generating panic by casting a wide net because it makes most undocumented immigrants targets for removal.
The groups reported a barrage of calls from people in impacted areas.
“The way the Trump administration has decided to kick off its deportation force,” according to Marielena Hincapié, executive director, National Immigration Law Center, “has instilled chaos and fear in communities across the country.”
On Saturday, President Donald Trump tweeted, “The crackdown on illegal criminals is merely the keeping of my campaign promise. Gang members, drug dealers & others are being removed!”
Administration officials have said the operations were similar to those conducted by immigration agents during the Obama administration.
“ICE conducts these kinds of targeted enforcement operations regularly and has for many years. The focus of these enforcement operations is consistent with the routine, targeted arrests carried out by ICE’s Fugitive Operations teams on a daily basis,” Mr. Kelly said in the statement.
However, officials have also said that targets were based on criteria outlined in an executive order signed by Mr. Trump last month. That order greatly expanded the pool of undocumented immigrants who can be targeted for deportation.
Under the order, undocumented immigrants convicted of minor crimes, charged but not yet convicted and deemed a threat to public safety are priorities for removal. That encompasses immigrants who used a fake Social Security number to secure work, a common practice, and those caught driving without a license. Many states don’t issue licenses to undocumented immigrants.
Immigrant and civil-rights groups Monday said the operations were a major departure from guidance that agents followed under the Obama administration, which prioritized the arrest and removal of those convicted of serious crimes to maximize the use of limited resources.
Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles said the organization’s hotline, which typically receives 15,000 calls a year, had handled 2,000 calls in “a couple of days.”
Lawyers and advocates said that individuals who had committed lesser offenses or happened to be at a site when agents showed up had been taken into custody even though they weren’t targets. The advocates said that they were still collecting reports to estimate how many people would have been in that group.
Officials didn’t dispute that might have occurred.
“During targeted enforcement operations ICE officers frequently encounter additional suspects who may be in the United States in violation of federal immigration laws,” the agency said in a statement. “Those persons will be evaluated on a case by case basis and, when appropriate, arrested by ICE.”
During his campaign, Mr. Trump pledged to immediately focus on deporting two million to three million immigrants who he says are criminals. The Migration Policy Institute estimated in 2015 that 820,000 undocumented immigrants have a criminal conviction.
Lawyers said Friday that many of their clients who were detained had an outstanding removal order, because they had skipped a court day or evaded a deportation order. These immigrants weren’t previously a priority for removal, if they had been living in the interior of the country for an extended period and not committed a crime.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, whose agents conducted the operation, said that those not being criminally prosecuted will be processed for removal from the country. Individuals who have outstanding orders of deportation, or who returned to the U.S. illegally after being deported, are subject to immediate deportation.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto recently budgeted about $50 million to the country’s 50 consulates to help pay the costs of defending undocumented migrants facing deportation.
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