Routine operation or crackdown?
Suspicion lingers after 680 arrested in nationwide operation
By Tatiana Prophet
About 160 foreign nationals from a dozen countries were arrested in Southern California last week, during a national operation that arrested 680 people nationwide in Chicago, New York, San Antonio and Atlanta.
In a conference call last Friday with the media, Field Office Director David Marin said the agency began planning this raid before any executive orders by President Donald Trump. But suspicion is high on the part of immigrant advocates, especially after a tweet in which Trump himself referred to the operation as a crackdown on criminals.
Semantics are key in this situation; while similar raids under President Obama actually netted more total arrests than this operation, fears and suspicion appear to be at an all-time high.
ICE field director Marin told the media the arrests “absolutely mirror the kind of that we prioritize in our day-to-day enforcement activities. These surge operations generally take weeks of planning because we need to establish our search targets,” he added.
Marin and ICE spokesperson Virginia Kice said they were not at liberty to discuss Trump’s recent executive orders or how they impact future enforcement efforts.
Immigration attorneys and advocates told local and national media that some bystanders had been taken into custody, while Facebook and Twitter began carrying anonymous messages and photos allegedly showing ICE agents patrolling taco stands and apartment complexes. Reports emerged from Chicago, Atlanta, New York and Austin, Texas, of similar raids. Los Angeles officials declined to comment on other locations, other than to confirm that there were raids in all locations but Texas.
When asked by Back to Facts about arrests made of individuals other than those targeted, Kice responded: “There are certainly instances when we go to a location, we may encounter other individuals, and it turns out they are also possibly in violation of immigration law. And if that situation occurs, depending on the circumstances, we may decide to pursue an enforcement action.”
The Los Angeles field office’s last enforcement surge was in July and yielded 240 arrests. Numbers that came in on Monday from a statement by Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly show that the operation netted 680 arrests nationally in the areas originally reported in the media. This is in contrast to the last similar raid in March 2015, dubbed operation Cross Check by the agency. That raid, under Obama, netted 2,015 arrests nationwide.
“These special operations are conducted fairly routinely,” Kice said in an interview. “Obviously in the current climate this enforcement has attracted a lot of attention, and we understand that. ... but the activities that took place this past week are essentially the same things we do on a day to day basis. The only difference is we devoted additional personnel to the effort.”
Since 2014, the Obama administration had pursued deportation of those who threaten national security first, then convicted felons, gang members and those caught at the border.
But local Los Angeles immigrant advocacy groups have suggested on social media that Trump's presidency has caused the victimization of nonviolent immigrants.
"Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me," wrote Angelica Salas, executive director of Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA), in a statement released on Facebook.
The group appears to take issue that ICE did not acknowledge the raids until Friday. They were conducted unannounced, and only after reports surfaced did ICE issue a statement.
"There is a deficit of trust on DHS officials who insisted for hours on hours that nothing out of the ordinary had taken place in Southern California during the past few days. Then, and only after incredible pressure from the community, ICE finally admits to having disrupted 55 communities in 5 counties to arrest more than 160 undocumented immigrants.
"Make no mistake about it: these sweeps are directly linked to President Trump's "new normal" where criminalizing and dehumanizing immigrants is convenient to violate their due process and facilitate their deportation.
Salas further suggested that ICE had arrested non-criminals because they did not specify the crimes committed by all except three individuals.
"We demand ICE stop these sweeps which cause terror and instability in the community. Furthermore, we demand ICE explain exactly what crime did the other 147 immigrants commit to merit the label 'criminal.' Providing three examples does not a whole group of people a criminal make."
Officials had released the following three examples of arrests in the Los Angeles area:
A Salvadoran national MS-13 member arrested in Huntington Park, a Brazilian national wanted for cocaine trafficking, and an Australian national who was previously convicted of lewd and lascivious acts with a child.
Marin said recent reports of those in custody being prevented from seeing an attorney were false.
"Let me be clear to everyone, we have facilitated a meeting with everyone we have arrested," he said. "If there were circumstances where this happened, please let us know so that we can move immediately to rectify the situation."
Of the 10 non-criminals taken into custody, five had final orders of removal or had been previously deported. Roughly 75 percent of the 150 with criminal records had committed felonies, Marin said. Many of those arrested had prior felony convictions for serious or violent offenses, such as child sex crimes, weapons charges, and assault.
Some of those arrested will be presented to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for prosecution for illegal re-entry after deportation. Those who have outstanding deportation orders are subject to immediate removal from the country. The remaining individuals are in ICE custody awaiting a hearing before an immigration judge, or pending travel arrangements for removal in the near future, Kice said.
The operation began Monday and ended Friday at noon. The enforcement effort involved 11 teams of deportation officers, including those personnel regularly assigned to the nine Fugitive Operations Teams based in the Los Angeles field office.
This week’s operation targeted public safety threats, such as convicted sex offender and known gang members, and individuals who have violated immigration laws, including those who re-entered the country after being deported and immigration fugitives who fled after being ordered deported by federal immigration judges.
On January 25, President Donald Trump issued a broad executive order regarding border security and immigration. It addresses many issues, including "empowering" local law enforcement to enforce immigration laws, but does not specifically address deportation priorities.
As of February 13, the ICE government web site had archived the Obama administration's Priority Enforcement Program, with the announcement: "Priority Enforcement Program (PEP) was U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement program rom 2015 to 2017. This content is now archived. Read more about the program's history below."
The Los Angeles ICE Field Office includes Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino counties, plus counties in the Central Coast. The only county that did not experience any arrests was San Luis Obispo, officials said.
Anxiety has spread throughout the immigrant advocate community regarding what kind of actions President Trump will be taking. In early February, a woman in Mesa, Ariz., was deported after a routine check-in regarding her nonviolent felony (using a false social security number for employment). Such practice was not entirely uncommon under the previous administration.
Using false social security numbers for employment has become a fairly routine practice , so much so that the United States' social security fund contains billions of dollars gleaned from false social security card holders. The Social Security Administration's Office of the Chief Actuary estimated that in 2010 1.8 million undocumented immigrants worked under social security numbers that did not match their name. They earned as much as $13 billion in that year. But only $1 billion received payout. Such a staggering portion of the 8.3 million undocumented workers in the United States would be very difficult to deport, and would presumably have a long history of living and working in this country.
Stay tuned for updates on the immigration policy of the Trump administration.
Photo: Operation Cross Check, Atlanta, 2/9/2017. Photo by Bryan Cox.
This article was updated 2/13/2017, 7:05 p.m.