More than 680 unauthorized immigrants were arrested last week — including 87 in Georgia — in a nationwide operation focusing on gang members and criminals who pose public safety threats as well as others who are violating the nation’s immigration laws, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly announced Monday.
About three-quarters of those arrested have criminal convictions, Kelly said, for offenses including homicide, aggravated sexual abuse, sexual assault on a minor, lewd and lascivious acts with a child, indecent liberties with a minor, drug trafficking, battery, assault, DUI and weapons charges.
Word that arrests were underway fueled anxiety among immigrants that the Trump administration was launching a tough new crackdown. Kelly said the raids are nothing new and had already been in the works.
At a joint news conference Monday with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, President Donald Trump said he was making good on a campaign promise.
“We are actually taking people that are criminals -– very, very hardened criminals in some cases with a tremendous track record of abuse and problems –- and we are getting them out,” he said in response to a reporter’s question about border security. “And that is what I said I would do.”
Of the recent arrests, 190 were apprehended in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Atlanta area of operations, which includes Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. That number includes 127 people with criminal convictions, according to ICE. ICE provided details about three of them, all Mexican nationals:
• One man who was arrested in Georgia is wanted in his native country on homicide and attempted homicide charges;
• Another man arrested in the Atlanta area pleaded guilty to felony cocaine distribution charges;
• A third man arrested in the Charlotte, N.C., area was convicted on three counts of taking indecent liberties with a child and had been previously deported.
Further, 29 of those arrested in Georgia and the Carolinas had reentered the country after being removed. And 17 were fugitives who had been ordered deported by federal immigration judges. During such operations, ICE officials added, they frequently encounter additional people suspected of being in the country illegally who are “evaluated on a case by case basis and, when appropriate, arrested by ICE.”
Authorities also apprehended people last week in ICE’s Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City and San Antonio areas of responsibility.
Trump, who campaigned hard on ratcheting up immigration enforcement, signed a pair of executive orders last month for building a new wall on the southwest border, hiring 10,000 additional immigration enforcement officers and stripping federal funding from municipalities that don’t fully cooperate with deportation authorities.
Joe Berrigan, a Savannah-based attorney, said a pregnant woman sought his help last week after ICE arrested her husband while he was driving his young children to the school bus in their mobile home community. The man, whom Berrigan declined to identify, is a Mexican native who does not have a criminal record. One of his children has Down syndrome, Berrigan said. ICE officers arrested him after failing to find someone else they were seeking in the same community, Berrigan added. He is now being held in the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla.
“The community is just kind of on pins and needles right now,” Berrigan said. “Nobody wants to leave the house or answer the door.”
But Kelly said last week’s approach is nothing new.
“ICE conducts these kind of targeted enforcement operations regularly and has for many years,” he said in a prepared statement. “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.”
One of Trump’s executive orders significantly widens the net for unauthorized immigrants. For example, it not only prioritizes the deportation of convicted criminals but people whose charges have not been adjudicated and others who “have committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense.” Further, it zeroes in on people who have engaged in fraud, abused public benefits or are deemed by immigration officers to be a risk to public safety or national security.
“It’s not hard to run afoul of any of those provisions,” said Carolina Antonini, an Atlanta-area immigration attorney who teaches law at Georgia State University. “I’m offended by the whole thing.”