Updated: 10:00 a.m. (02/13/2017)
United States immigration officials arrested hundreds of undocumented residents in a series of raids across at least six states in the past several days.
It was the first major crackdown on the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants residing in the U.S. since President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Jan. 25 vowing to ramp up immigration enforcement activity and improve security along the U.S.-Mexico border.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agents carried out raids this week in Atlanta, New York, Chicago, the Los Angeles Area and across North and South Carolina, the Washington Post reported, citing immigration officials. In New York alone, there were nearly 40 arrests in the last week, according to a leaked memo by Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Saturday. The memo said that 95 percent of those arrested had criminal records.
The raids have sparked an outcry from immigrant advocacy groups.
“Shame on ICE for putting New York’s immigrant communities — 4 million strong — in a state of panic,” said Steve Choi, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition. “These arrests do nothing but tear families apart, hobble our economies, and corrode the bonds of trust that tie our communities together.” New York is one of 10 major cities that reaffirmed its status as a “sanctuary city” after Trump’s election, meaning it will protect undocumented immigrants from federal prosecution (unless they commit one of 170 serious crimes).
The activity over the last week marks a departure from the Obama administration’s immigration enforcement, which wasn’t exactly easy going. Obama earned the nickname of “Deporter in Chief” due to his removal of 2 million people during his presidency.
During his first term, Obama pursued a severe deportation strategy wherein a previous conviction, including something as minor as a traffic offense, could be grounds for removal. However, the Obama administration later refocused its strategy on deporting immigrants who were convicted of serious crimes or repeat offenses, or who had recently entered the country illegally.
Trump’s executive order broadened ICE deportation criteria, meaning that crimes ranging from traffic citations to petty theft to violent crime, or even no criminal record at all, could be grounds for removal from the U.S. The order also outlined the construction of Trump’s long-promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, promised to beef up enforcement personnel and put an end to “catch-and-release” practices, which allow people to be released from detention as they wait for their immigration hearing.
Immigration officials maintain that the plans for these raids were in motion long before Trump took office. “This operation was in the planning stages before the current administration issued its executive order,” David Marin, the Los Angeles field office director for ICE, told CNN on Friday.
ICE released information from its Los Angeles office stating that 160 foreign nationals were arrested last week, 150 of whom had “criminal histories.” Though under Trump’s new executive order, it’s not clear if that means convictions for a violent crime or a traffic ticket.
On Sunday, Trump weighed in on the recent raids. “The crackdown on illegal criminals is merely the keeping of my campaign promise,” Trump wrote. “Gang members, drug dealers & others are being removed!”
Democratic lawmakers have spoken out against the raids. Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro wrote in a statement that he was “concerned about the raids.” “I am asking ICE to clarify whether those individuals are in fact dangerous, and not people who are here peacefully raising families and contributing to our state,” Castro said.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti voiced similar concerns.
“Hard-working families across this country are growing more and more fearful each day,” Scott Stringer, the New York City comptroller, said in a statement. “The White House agenda on immigration — be it the Executive Order or stepped-up ICE raids — is simply wrong for America.”
Yet Trump’s administration appears unmoved by the criticism. White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, during an appearance on “Meet the Press,” defended the recent raids, and insisted that ICE officers were acting in accordance with existing immigration law.
“If people don’t like the immigration laws of the United States. they can reform them,” Miller said. “Our emphasis is on deporting and removing criminal aliens who pose a threat to public safety.”
Trump and senior officials in his administration have repeatedly stressed the danger undocumented immigrants pose to American citizens. But such fears appear overstated. According to figures from the U.S. Sentencing Commission, undocumented immigrants accounted for 6.9 percent of federal murder cases in 2013 — equivalent to a total of six homicides. As the New York Times recently reported, several studies on crime and undocumented immigrants found “that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than people born in the United States.”