Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers nationwide arrested more than 680 undocumented immigrants last week in what advocates continue to call “raids.”
Information from ICE officials about the reason behind the sudden uptick in reports of arrests appears to contradict both eyewitness accounts and information tweeted by President Trump.
“ICE Fugitive Operations teams are out every day as part of routine, targeted enforcement operations,” acting spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Gillian Christensen said in a February 10 statement.
A February 13 press release from Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary John Kelly echoes this. Kelly said, “ICE conducts these kind 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.”
However, on February 12, after a bulk of the arrests had been made, Trump tweeted, “The crackdown on illegal criminals is merely the keeping of my campaign promise.”
ICE officials continue to deny that the federal agency conducts sweeps, raids, checkpoints, or that they “target aliens indiscriminately,” despite reports out of North Carolina last week that ICE and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department operated a checkpoint in Charlotte. ICE spokesperson Bryan Cox denied that charge to the Charlotte Observer, though he confirmed as real a photo seen on social media of an arrest conducted by ICE officers at Central Avenue and Kilborne Drive.
Cox said “no other departments participated” in the arrests and that the people detained were not pulled over randomly—statements that contradicted information from Julie Mao, an enforcement fellow at the National Lawyers Guild’s National Immigration Project. Mao, who assisted on the cases of those detained in Charlotte, told Rewire that ICE routinely uses “deceptive practices.”
“I mean, this is what ICE does: It says these are not ‘indiscriminate sweeps’ and that they are doing ‘targeted enforcement.’ But these are basically checkpoints, especially with the use of these fingerprinting machines,” Mao said. “What ICE actually does is use this one ‘targeted person’ they’re searching for as a way of targeting an entire area, making a huge amount of collateral arrests and taking a lot of collateral fingerprints.”
According to DHS, of those arrested last week, “approximately 75 percent were criminal aliens,” meaning 25 percent were likely undocumented immigrants in the immediate area who were arrested despite having no criminal record.
Victor Del Pino, a Maryland-based criminal defense attorney who practices immigration law and has undocumented clients, said in an interview with Rewire that he received calls last week reporting that immigration officials were “knocking down doors” searching for undocumented immigrants with criminal records, and arresting anyone in the home who was undocumented.
“At this point, it’s hard to tell what are rumors and what is actually happening,” Del Pino said. “I received frantic calls about ICE picking up people at bus stops, supposedly indiscriminately asking people for documentation.”
The attorney told Rewire that it’s “been hard to come by accurate information about what’s going on.”
Del Pino said Maryland’s Montgomery County has been welcoming of undocumented people and that if there was news of detainment or deportation, it was “always” tied to a criminal matter. Unless there was a violent offense committed, local police would not contact ICE, Del Pino said.
He added that there has been a marked change during the Trump administration’s first month in power.
“Something feels very different and all I can say is that prior to this administration, I don’t ever remember receiving scared phone calls about bus stop raids, or ICE knocking down someone’s door to find someone and then targeting everyone else. This didn’t happen here,” Del Pino said. “There’s just a different tone and we attorneys have to talk to our clients different now because, even in our community, a traffic offense could put you at risk of deportation.”
There was an 87 percent increase in deportations of “convicted criminals” between fiscal years 2008 and 2013. This spike has been credited to the way the Obama administration widened what constituted “criminal behavior.” As FactCheck.org explained, “the 87 percent increase in the deportation of ‘convicted criminals’ was driven almost exclusively by ‘those with a traffic violation (up 191 percent) and individuals convicted of immigration offenses (up 167 percent).’”
Trump, who has said that he will have “zero tolerance” for “criminal aliens,” could push the parameters of what it means to be a “criminal” in order to deport more people.
Del Pino said he has represented people with serious criminal records. Those are deportations he can understand.
“But if we start hearing stories of people getting deported for being drunk in public or traffic offenses, then this is a bunch of BS,” Del Pino said. “They’re calling people ‘criminals’ to deport them.”