U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents detained scores of immigrants across the Los Angeles area in a massive deportation operation on Thursday, following President Donald Trump’s harsh executive order stepping up the crackdown of immigrants with criminal offenses living in the country illegally.
Advocates and lawyers said that ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations agents detained 134 immigrants at their workplaces and homes in a series of raids. They said that some people were picked up as “collateral arrest” after they opened their doors to agents who were not there to specifically arrest them. ICE agents allegedly requested to see identification from everyone and took in family members who were undocumented.
The immigration sweeps are believed to have taken place across Southern California in Santa Paula, Oxnard, Van Nuys, San Bernardino, and Downey.
As of Thursday night, the ICE agency denied that it had detained 100 immigrants, the original figure given by lawyers who said that the number comes from a list of immigrants apprehended at the ICE office in Los Angeles. On Friday night, ICE officials confirmed on a press call that the agency had detained 161 immigrants across six Los Angeles counties.
“Our operations are targeted and lead driven, prioritizing individuals who pose a risk to our communities,” ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice wrote in an email to ThinkProgress. She said officers conduct “routine” enforcement actions to arrest “known street gang members, child sex offenders, and deportable foreign nationals with significant drug trafficking convictions.”
Kice added that the agency prioritizes cases based on factors such as the person’s criminal and immigration history, “as well as the viability of the leads we have on the individual’s possible whereabouts.”
But advocates disagree. They say that this particular raid was not “routine” and that the immigrants detained did not pose a risk to their communities.
Routine immigration operations typically detain three to five people — but a sweep across seven counties to round up people appears to be a direct consequence of Trump’s recent executive order that gives broad power for agents to detain immigrants, advocates said.
Trump’s order gave agents greater authority to arrest “removable aliens” who “have been convicted of any criminal offense,” may not have left the country after receiving a final order of removal, or can pose a public safety or national security risk as determined by an immigration officer.
Jorge-Mario Cabrera, the Director of Communications at the immigrant advocacy group Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA), told ThinkProgress that the immigrants arrested this week were “low-priority.”
Cabrera said that, by late Thursday evening, lawyers were able to consult 16 people detained in the raids who do not in fact have criminal records. One of those detainees has two U.S.-born children, no criminal background, and has spent years living in the United States. Another one was considered a “gang member” simply because of old speeding tickets and tattoos.
Karla Navarrete, an attorney who was at the ICE office in Los Angeles to represent detained immigrants, told ThinkProgress that some of the immigrants were likely immediately deported.
An ICE officer told her that one of the people she represents — a father to three children who are U.S. citizens who was likely eligible for a green card — had been deported. But Navarrete couldn’t confirm that because she was denied entry to physically see him. “We don’t know because we don’t believe them,” she said. She is now working to file a stay for the man.
Navarrete said agents told her clients that “everything has changed since January 20,” in reference to Trump’s inauguration date.
Federal agents have already begun stepping up enforcement actions against immigrants with old criminal offenses. Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos, an immigrant mother of two U.S. citizen, was deported on Thursday after she checked in at a ICE office following a 2008 conviction for using a fake Social Security number. Rayos may likely have been spared from deportation under the Obama administration because he had issued a memo encouraging ICE agents to exercise discretion when detaining and deporting parents of U.S. citizen children and other people with ties to the United States. The Trump administration has not issued any such memos urging leniency.