DHS arrested 680 immigrants in week-long roundup

In Feb. 7, 2017, photo released by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement shows foreign nationals being arrested this week during a targeted enforcement operation by ICE in LA (Charles Reed/U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement via AP)

The Homeland Security Department said Monday that 680 people were arrested in roundups last week targeting immigrants living illegally in the United States. The figure is far below the totals of similar raids conducted under the Obama administration.

The raids have left immigrant communities worried about stepped-up enforcement efforts and the White House taking credit for arrests. But Homeland Security described the roundups as routine.

DHS Secretary John Kelly said Immigration and Customs Enforcement targeted immigrants who are a threat to public safety, including convicted criminals and gang members. He said 75 percent of those arrested were criminals, some of whom had been convicted of homicide and aggravated sexual assault.

ICE officials said 161 people from 13 countries were arrested in the Los Angeles area, all but 10 of whom were convicted criminals. More than 100 people arrested there were from Mexico.

Kelly said arrests were also made by agents working in New York, Atlanta, Chicago and San Antonio.

Details of who was arrested were not made available, but the arrests and rumors about other raids sparked fear and confusion among immigrants.

Immigration advocates and the White House both suggested the arrests were President Donald Trump's first salvo in what he has promised will be a stepped up campaign to find and deport criminal immigrants and others living in the U.S. illegally.

Trump on Monday bragged that his administration was following through on his campaign pledge and targeting "the bad ones."

"I said at the beginning we are going to get the bad ones, the really bad ones, we are going to get them out," Trump said at a news conference with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

ICE officials and Kelly, however, have said the arrests were part of routine enforcement efforts. Similar roundups under former President Barack Obama yielded far more arrests. In March 2015, ICE said a five-day enforcement effort ended with more than 2,000 arrests.

During the Obama administration, however, ICE agents generally arrested wanted immigration fugitives and convicted criminals. Last week's arrests included immigrants whose only offense was an immigration violation.

Fact check: Are immigration raids result of Trump policy?

TRUMP VS. OBAMA

As a candidate, Donald Trump vowed to take a hard line on immigration. Five days after taking office, he signed a sweeping executive order that made clear that just about any immigrant living in the country illegally could be a priority for deportation, particularly those with outstanding deportation orders. The president's order also said enforcement priorities would include convicted criminals, immigrants who had been arrested for any criminal offense, those who committed fraud and anyone who may have committed a crime, including immigration violations.

Under President Barack Obama, the government focused on immigrants in the country illegally who posed a threat to national security or public safety and recent border crossers. But despite the narrower focus, more than 2 million people were deported during Obama's time in office, including a record of more than 409,000 people in 2012. At one point, his critics dubbed him the "deporter in chief."

The record was reached with the help of the Secure Communities program that helped the government identify immigrants in the United States illegally who had been arrested. In the latter half of Obama's tenure the Secure Communities program fell out of favor with the administration and local jurisdictions, and deportations plummeted to lows matching those during former President George W. Bush's term.

ARE THE LATEST RAIDS A DIRECT RESULT OF TRUMP'S ORDER?

Immigration officials said they weren't. But Trump, during a press conference Monday with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, bragged that his administration was following through on his campaign pledge and targeting "the bad ones." He said immigration authorities focused on immigrants in the country illegally "with a tremendous track record of abuse and problems and we are getting them out."
"I said at the beginning we are going to get the bad ones, the really bad ones, we are going to get them out," Trump said.

David Marin, Immigration and Customs Enforcement's field office director for enforcement and removal operations in greater Los Angeles, said the agency carries out these operations two or three times a year in his region. The California operation was in the planning stages "before the administration came out with their current executive orders," he said.

But immigrant rights groups say the actions are harsher than in the past.

Advocates began fielding calls Thursday from immigrants and their lawyers reporting raids at homes and businesses in the greater Los Angeles area. In one instance, agents showed up at the home of a 50-year-old house painter named Manuel Mosqueda in the Los Angeles suburbs, looking to arrest an immigrant who wasn't there. In the process, they spoke with Mosqueda, arrested him and put him on a bus to Mexico - though lawyers were able to halt his deportation and bring him back.

In all, Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested 680 immigrants. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said everyone arrested posed "a threat to public safety, border security or the integrity of our nation's immigration system."

Kelly said about 75 percent of the people arrested were criminals convicted of a variety of crimes, including "homicide, aggravated sexual abuse, sexual assault of a minor, lewd and lascivious acts with a child, indecent liberties with a minor, drug trafficking, battery, assault, DUI and weapons charges."
ICE had previously called the arrests an "enforcement surge" that was no different than enforcement actions carried out in the past and said a "rash of recent reports about purported ICE checkpoints and random sweeps are false, dangerous and irresponsible." In a statement, the agency said "officers frequently encounter additional suspects who may be in the United States in violation of the federal immigration laws. Those persons will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis and, when appropriate, arrested by ICE."

THE NEW NORMAL?

Despite the claims that this is business as usual, an indication of the changed tactics came earlier in the week when Kelly testified before Congress. He told lawmakers that immigration agents expressed frustration at not being fully allowed to enforce immigration laws under the Obama administration. He predicted Trump's directives would end that frustration.

"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 told the House Homeland Security Committee. "And now, they feel more positive about things. I bet if you watch the morale issue, you'll ... be surprised going forward."

Acting ICE Director Thomas Homan, who was previously in charge of the agency's enforcement and removal operations, earlier this month made a point of noting that his agents would enforce the law.

In at least one case, it seems clear that Trump's order changed someone's fate. Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos, a mother of two in Phoenix, was arrested nearly a decade ago for using a false ID to get a job as a janitor at an amusement park. She pleaded guilty to a felony charge, but the government during the Obama years declined to deport her despite her being in the country illegally and a judge's order that she leave. On Wednesday, she showed up at the ICE building in Phoenix for a scheduled check-in with immigration officers and was swiftly deported to Mexico.
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(Copyright ©2017 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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