US immigration agents arrest hundreds in surprise nationwide sweep

ICE agent
Foreign nationals are arrested during a targeted enforcement operation conducted by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents in Los Angeles, Feb. 7, 2017. Charles Reed/US Immigration and Customs Enforcement via AP

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers have arrested hundreds of people a nationwide sweep in what they called an “enforcement surge,” The Washington Post reported on Friday.

The moves, however, were seen by advocates as a consequence of President Donald Trump’s recent executive orders on immigration.

According to immigration officials cited by The Associated Press, the five-day operation was designed to round up immigrants who allegedly have criminal histories and deportation orders.

Hundreds of arrests — from Atlanta to Chicago to New York, Los Angeles, North Carolina, and South Carolina — drew backlash from several immigration advocacy groups. ICE officials arrested about 160 people in Southern California alone.

“… This is not normal,” said Angelica Salas, the Director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) in a news conference on Friday. “We have responded to raids in the past and this is what sweeps … large numbers of people picked up in a very short period of time, look like,” she said.

Though attorneys and immigration advocates accused ICE agents of using traffic stops and checkpoints as part of the enforcement surge, the agency denied those allegations, The Associated Press said, citing agency officials who warned that the “rash of recent reports about purported ICE checkpoints and random sweeps are false, dangerous, and irresponsible.”

According to an unnamed Department of Homeland Security official cited by The Post, civilians who lacked documentation, but had no criminal history were also rounded up alongside people known to have criminal records — a result of Trump’s recently expanded immigration rules.

“We cannot understate the level of panic and terror that is running through many immigrant communities,” said Walter Barrientos, a member of an immigration advocacy group.

According to Barrientos, ICE agents were “not just detaining individuals they are looking for … but in fact, taking anyone else in the community, or in these homes who does not have immigration status at the moment, or who is not able to prove citizenship.”

“Big cities tend to have a lot of illegal immigrants,” said the unnamed DHS official interviewed by The Post. “They’re going to a target-rich environment.”

Marlene Mosqueda, who’s father was picked up by ICE agents during the sweep, described her experience in a news conference. “It wasn’t just my dad getting deported, it was someone else they came to [search for]. And they didn’t even have ICE on them, titled,” she said, apparently referring to department identification. “That’s what is pissing me off: that they came in with the police sign on their backs. They weren’t even ICE.”

An Immigration Customs and Enforcement spokesperson did not immediately return Business Insider’s request for comment.

“ICE is denying information and misleading attorneys and [Thursday’s] operation was a coordinated effort,” added Director Salas, Reuters reported. “ICE has not yet stated clear information … This is unacceptable.”

“Every immigrant needs to speak out,” said Mosqueda. “… We need to unite as one, we need to be together, we need to support each other.”

The arrests came after Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly testified before Congress this week that the department was frustrated with the Obama administration’s lenient policy toward undocumented immigrants who committed no serious crimes.

“I think their morale has suffered because of the job they were hired to do, and then in their sense, they’re … kind of hobbled or, you know, hands tied behind their back, that kind of thing,” Kelly said. “And now, they feel more positive about things. I bet if you watch the morale issue, you’ll … be surprised going forward.”

A study by the Pew Research Center estimates that 11.1 million undocumented immigrants live in the US — or 3.5 per cent of the population. The study also said that of these, 2.5 million undocumented immigrants lived in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago.

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