LOS ANGELES — Recent raids by U.S. immigration officials nabbed hundreds of individuals believed to be in the country illegally, spreading alarm among immigrant rights groups as they scrambled to gather information and warn people in communities nationwide.
Officials with the Department of Homeland Security confirmed that Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents conducted so-called “targeted enforcement operations” focused on detaining people with criminal backgrounds living in cities across the country. Officials pushed back against the notion that the raids were anything but routine.
Nearly 200 people across Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina were arrested this week during immigration raids, according to a preliminary tally provided by ICE’s Atlanta field office. The majority were convicted criminals, ICE officials said, targeted as part of “routine” and “established” enforcement operations. In the Los Angeles area, more than 150 arrests were made in a weeklong operation, ICE officials said.
And in Austin, Texas, while ICE officials did not provide a number of arrests, they did notify the Mexican Consulate-General of totals including Mexican nationals but not individuals from other countries. A spokesman from the consulate said nearly 50 arrests of Mexican nationals had been recorded since Thursday. On average, the consulate is notified of about three each day.
“ICE conducts targeted immigration enforcement in compliance with federal law and agency policy. ICE does not conduct sweeps or raids that target aliens indiscriminately,” Bryan Cox, ICE’s Southern region communications director, said in a statement Saturday.
Last month, President Donald Trump signed an executive order directing Homeland Security to prioritize the removal of people in the United States illegally who had criminal convictions. In addition to speeding up the deportation of convicts, Trump’s orders also call for quick removal of people in the country illegally who are charged with crimes and waiting for adjudication as well as those who have not been charged but are believed to have committed “acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense.”
“There really is a lot of confusion as to who they’re targeting,” said Faye Kolly, an immigration attorney based in Austin. “A lot of people are scared.”
A video circulated on social media appeared to show ICE agents in Austin detaining several people in a shopping center parking lot.
Austin City Councilman Greg Casar, who represents a North-Central part of the city that is home to many immigrants, said constituents were hanging dark sheets on windows and refusing to open the front door even for immigrant rights advocates.
“And these are constituents of mine who have no criminal records — nothing. But they’re being targeted and are really concerned,” Casar said.
Jessica Foulke teaches at a charter middle school that is 90 percent Latino, in Casar’s district. On Saturday, Foulke fielded dozens of texts and phone calls from students who were concerned about the barrage of coverage of ICE sweeps in Austin and nationwide.
“They’re asking, ‘Will my mom be OK? Will my dad be OK?'” Foulke said. “There’s heartbreak and I just don’t have all the answers for them.”
Sarah Owings, an immigration attorney in Atlanta and chairwoman of the American Immigration Lawyers Association’s Georgia-Alabama Chapter, said attorneys had heard of multiple raids last week across Atlanta and Savannah.
“We’re hearing that they’re using their powers in a very broad manner,” she said. “It’s not that they’re targeting people who have criminal records. They’re targeting anyone who’s undocumented that they happen to come into contact with. So they’re looking for someone specific, but they’re also asking everyone for their IDs.”
Under President Barack Obama, ICE prioritized violent criminals, such as those guilty of terrorism or aggravated felonies. Now, Owings said, the department seems to be sweeping up immigrants who fall outside that target list.
“Now there’s no difference between someone who’s a terrorist and someone who’s picking their kids up from school,” she said. “It’s very chilling for the community. No one knows what’s going on.”
Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, an immigrant advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., said he doesn’t “buy that this is business as normal from ICE.”
“Following school buses? Raiding construction sites? Asking people for IDs on a bus?” he said. “And now they’ve been given the green light by Trump.”
Some advocates also have hinted that the raids could be in retaliation for so-called “sanctuary cities” across the U.S.
Trump also signed an executive order that designates sanctuary cities — municipalities that defy federal immigration laws to protect individuals in the country illegally — as “ineligible to receive federal grants” should they continue to ignore immigration laws. Those cities include, among others, Austin and Los Angeles.
“With the new administration, we continue to be concerned,” said Kolly, the Austin-based immigration attorney. “I think this will become the new normal for a while.”
Source: MSN News
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