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Cutting Through Confusion Around the Immigration Raids

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The combination of the Trump Administration’s immigration enforcement executive order, which treats all undocumented immigrants as potential priorities for deportation, and the deportation raids conducted throughout the country by ICE, has spread fear in families and communities across America.

Some voices in the Trump Administration and DHS have been attempting to follow the boss and emphasize a focus on “criminal aliens.” General John Kelly, the Secretary of DHS, issued a statement yesterday characterizing the targets of the recent raids as follows: “public safety threats, such as convicted criminal aliens and gang members, as well as individuals who have violated our nation’s immigration laws, including those who illegally re-entered the country after being removed and immigration fugitives ordered removed by federal immigration judges … Of those arrested, approximately 75 percent were criminal aliens.”

Meanwhile, writing for the Washington Post, Abigail Hauslohner and Sandhya Somashekhar quote an unnamed DHS official saying “that the term ‘criminal aliens’ includes anyone who had entered the United States illegally or overstayed or violated the terms of a visa.”

Given that General Kelly’s statement makes clear that at least 25 percent of those arrested were not “criminal aliens” and the DHS official quoted in the Post highlights that even the “criminal aliens” term includes such an expansive definition as to include any undocumented immigrant, it’s understandable why so many are fearful – and confused – about what’s happening.

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice Education Fund, “DHS is throwing sand in the face of the American people. They are saying that their focus is on bad actors when in fact their new policy, as codified by Trump’s interior enforcement executive order, is that any undocumented immigrant who is at the wrong place at the wrong time may be arrested and deported. The resulting fear is a feature, not a bug, of the Trump Administration’s approach to immigration enforcement.”

In VoxDara Lind tries to cut through some of the confusion and misinformation and offers a helpful explainer on the implications of the raids and what they may signify moving forward:

“What distinguished last week’s raids from the Obama era were three things: First, ICE agents broke with years of Obama-administration policy by making “collateral arrests” — arresting unauthorized immigrants who happened to be in the place they were raiding, even if they didn’t have a warrant for them. Second, the agency deliberately coordinated a series of nationwide raids, scooping up more people in less time than ICE raids typically do.

Finally, of course, President Obama — who spent much of his presidency attempting to reassure unauthorized immigrants that if they hadn’t committed crimes in the US, they were safe from deportation — isn’t in office anymore. In his place is a president who got elected promising a new, tougher era in immigration enforcement, one in which immigrants were more broadly targeted and ICE agents less restrained.

…For the most part, the raids appear to have been targeted efforts to catch individual immigrants that ICE had gotten warrants to arrest. DHS’s statement claimed that “approximately 75%” of the immigrants arrested were “criminal aliens,” implying they had criminal convictions — though many of those convictions were almost certainly for minor crimes (or simply for reentering the country illegally).

Confusingly, another DHS official told the Washington Post that anyone who’d entered the country illegally or overstayed a visa counted as a “criminal alien” — but that definition would fit all 680 of the people arrested last week, not just 75 percent of them, so it doesn’t appear to be the definition used in the DHS statement.

Immigrants who had previously gotten orders of deportation also appeared to be targets in Los Angeles and Maryland.

But it’s also clear that when ICE agents encountered other unauthorized immigrants along with the person they were seeking — or when they didn’t find that person, but found other unauthorized immigrants instead — others were arrested too.

…When Kelly maintained in Monday’s statement that “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,” he wasn’t necessarily wrong.

But he was only telling half the story. His department has changed its policy toward the immigrants it’s not explicitly “focusing” on — which make up the overwhelming majority of unauthorized immigrants in the United States. To millions of immigrants and their communities, last week’s raids represented a potential threat of the type they hadn’t seen in years: the threat of becoming a “collateral” victim of an ICE raid simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The immigrants caught up in “collateral arrests” last week aren’t authorized to be in the US, but have never had a criminal record or been deported or ordered deported. In some cases, they happened to be in the same apartment as someone ICE was looking for. In others, ICE had the wrong address but fingerprinted and arrested anyone who was there anyway.

Collateral arrests were known to happen under the Obama administration. But generally, ICE agents were under instructions to arrest people identified in advance, and only those people.

Many rank-and-file ICE agents hated this.

…High-profile raids are designed to affect not only the people who are physically being arrested, but anyone else who could be in a similar position. They’re supposed to serve as a deterrent to anyone who might be considering coming to the US without papers, and to increase the pressure on anyone who is currently here and could be persuaded to leave.

But raids are an extremely blunt instrument for this purpose. Inevitably, they inspire fear in many, many more people than those who are likely to be targets. And where there is fear, rumors about raids can easily spread, putting vulnerable people on high alert.

This is especially true if people already used to living in fear of deportation. For immigrant communities, what they are experiencing today is simply a return to what they felt under George W. Bush in 2005, or when Obama was setting deportation records in 2010 while claiming he wasn’t deporting law-abiding unauthorized immigrants.

Now, as then, there’s nothing concrete that local leaders and advocates can offer immigrants to ensure they won’t be deported. Indeed, they have little ability to dismiss the worst rumors — because under Trump, no one knows what is possible.

While ICE agents did not, in fact, arrest people going to or from church in Kansas City, they could have. There’s a 2011 memo that tells ICE agents not to conduct enforcement activities at “sensitive locations” like churches and schools, but it’s not clear whether ICE is following that memo under Trump. In most cases, ICE agents weren’t sweeping through whole neighborhoods or stopping drivers at random — but there wasn’t anything stopping them from doing so, and no indication they won’t start in future.”