Immigrant communities and activists on high alert after President Trump gives ‘green light’ for increased raids
Some advocates also have hinted that the raids could be in retaliation for so-called “sanctuary cities” across the US
Raids by US immigration officials have led to hundreds of individuals believed to be in the country illegally being detained, spreading alarm among immigrant rights groups as they scrambled to gather information and warn people in communities nationwide.
Officials with the Department of Homeland Security confirmed that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents conducted so-called “targeted enforcement operations” focused on detaining people with criminal backgrounds living in cities across the country. Officials pushed back against the notion that the raids were anything but routine.
Nearly 200 people across Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina were arrested this week during immigration raids, according to a preliminary tally provided by ICE’s Atlanta field office. The majority were convicted criminals, ICE officials said, targeted as part of “routine” and “established” enforcement operations. In the Los Angeles area, more than 150 arrests were made in a weeklong operation, ICE officials said.
“ICE conducts targeted immigration enforcement in compliance with federal law and agency policy. ICE does not conduct sweeps or raids that target aliens indiscriminately,” said Bryan Cox, ICE’s Southern region communications director.
Last month, President Donald Trump signed an executive order directing Homeland Security to prioritise the removal of people in the US illegally who had criminal convictions. In addition to speeding up the deportation of convicts, Trump’s orders also call for quick removal of people in the country illegally who are charged with crimes and waiting for adjudication as well as those who have not been charged but are believed to have committed “acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offence”.
“There really is a lot of confusion as to who they’re targeting,” said Faye Kolly, an immigration attorney based in Austin, Texas. “A lot of people are scared.”
A video circulated on social media appeared to show ICE agents in Austin detaining several people in a shopping centre parking lot.
Austin City Councilman Greg Casar, who represents a North-Central part of the city that is home to many immigrants, said constituents were hanging dark sheets on windows and refusing to open the front door even for immigrant rights advocates.
“And these are constituents of mine who have no criminal records – nothing. But they’re being targeted and are really concerned,” Casar said.
Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, an immigrant advocacy group based in Washington, DC, said he doesn’t “buy that this is business as normal from ICE”.
“Following school buses? Raiding construction sites? Asking people for IDs on a bus? ICE has a reputation for being one of the worst law enforcement agencies in the country,” he said. “And now they’ve been given the green light by Trump.”
Some advocates also have hinted that the raids could be in retaliation for so-called “sanctuary cities” across the US.
Trump also signed an executive order that designates sanctuary cities – municipalities that defy federal immigration laws to protect individuals in the country illegally – as “ineligible to receive federal grants” should they continue to ignore immigration laws. Those cities include, among others, Austin and Los Angeles.
“With the new administration, we continue to be concerned,” Kolly said. “I think this will become the new normal for a while.”