Federal immigration authorities launched a new wave of raids and other actions in several states over the past five days aimed at sweeping up people who are in this country illegally.
It's not known how many people were rounded up across the country, but immigration advocates say they've received reports of raids in California, Texas, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, New York and Kansas. The ICE operations are the first to take place since President Trump issued his Jan. 26 executive order expanding the priorities for enforcement.
President Trump has promised to deport 2 to 3 million immigrants with criminal records, but immigration experts say that while the Department of Homeland Security estimates there are 1.9 million "removable criminal aliens" in the United States, only about 690,000 are in this country illegally and have been convicted of a felony or serious misdemeanor.
Preliminary reports from southern California give an indication of the scope of the ICE operations. An official with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, in southern California, David Marin, called the actions routine "surge operations" that target "priority cases," in other words, people in this country illegally who have criminal convictions.
"We made 161 arrests, and of those 161, 151 of those had prior criminal convictions. ... The majority of them were felons and those felons which had prior convictions included sex offenses, domestic violence, assault, robbery and weapons violations, just to name a few," said Marin in a press teleconference held late Friday.
Marin said that of the ten others, five had impending deportation orders or had been deported and had illegally returned to the United States. The remaining five had no criminal records, but were in this country without documents.
Immigrant advocates dispute officials' claims that the operations were routine.
"What they're trying to do is a really concerted effort to instill fear and terrorize our communities," said David Abud, an organizer with the National Day Labor Organizing Network based in Los Angeles told NPR.
"It's a way in which Trump and ICE are retaliating against sanctuary jurisdictions," he added.
As we reported in the Two-Way, the majority of people in this country illegally are concentrated in 20 metropolitan areas in the country.
The Washington Post quoted one immigration official who was not authorized to speak publicly because of the sensitive nature of the operation as saying, "Big cities tend to have a lot of illegal immigrants. They're going to a target-rich environment."
There were anecdotal reports of ICE staging traffic checkpoints and random sweeps of people suspected of being here illegally. ICE's Marin called those reports "dangerous and irresponsible."
Marin declined to discuss any connection between the raids and the president's recent executive order, except to say that the operations had been planned for weeks before that order was issued.
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
After his election, President Trump promised to deport 2 to 3 million people in this country who were here illegally and had committed crimes. This week, federal authorities launched raids across the country that targeted immigrants who have criminal convictions. But as NPR's Richard Gonzales reports, many immigrants' advocates say that people without criminal records have been caught up in the raids, too.
RICHARD GONZALES, BYLINE: News of the raids emerged from at least seven states - California, Texas, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, New York and Kansas. By late Friday, immigration officials were scurrying to contain the rumors about who they were targeting and why. There were no immediate figures offered about the number of people apprehended nationwide, but they were likely in the hundreds. In Southern California alone, ICE field director David Marin said 161 people had been arrested and most had felony records. He's speaking here in a press teleconference.
(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)
DAVID MARIN: Those felons had prior convictions which included sex offenses, domestic violence, assault, robbery and weapons violations, just to name a few.
GONZALES: Marin said the raids were routine surge operations that had been in the planning for weeks before President Trump issued his executive order which expands the government's deportation priorities. But many immigrant advocates say that in the current climate, the raids were anything but routine.
DAVID ABUD: What they're trying to do is a really concerted effort to instill fear and terrorize our communities, especially immigrant communities.
GONZALES: David Abud is an organizer with the National Day Labor Organizing Network based in Los Angeles.
ABUD: You know, it's a way in which Trump and ICE are trying to retaliate, especially toward sanctuary jurisdictions - you know, places that have called themselves sanctuaries.
GONZALES: Around the country, there were anecdotal reports of ICE staging traffic stops and randomly sweeping people suspected of being in this country illegally, but David Marin of ICE says such reports were dangerous and irresponsible. Richard Gonzales, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.