News of this week’s federal immigration enforcement actions in Atlanta and across the country sparked strong responses on both sides of the immigration debate.
Federal agents arrested hundreds of unauthorized immigrants nationwide this week, including about 30 in the Atlanta area and nearly 100 in Georgia. The move follows President Donald Trump’s contested crackdown on illegal immigration.
It also comes as an immigrant mother in Phoenix – granted leniency during the Obama administration – was deported to Mexico Thursday. Her case has become a rallying cry for immigrant groups who believe Trump’s approach to immigration will unfairly tear apart families.
Azadeh Shahshahani, legal and advocacy director for the group Project South, said Georgia immigrants are “living in fear” because of this week’s enforcement actions.
“I think it’s deplorable that the government is targeting people who have been living in this community for years,” Shahshahani said. “There needs to be a stop to this.”
Officials from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said Friday that the majority of people arrested this week are convicted criminals, though they said it’s possible some are not criminals. They denied reports of checkpoints and random sweeps to round up immigrants, calling such reports dangerous and irresponsible.
Shahshahani is not ready to give the agency or the Trump administration the benefit of the doubt.
“We’re in touch with immigrants around the state who are obviously concerned, afraid of what could be happening,” she said. “Unfortunately, I think that might be an actual motive of the administration.”
David Hancock, co-chairman of the United Tea Party of Georgia, wondered if such sentiments are part of the “anti-Trump hysteria that is sweeping the nation.”
“Perhaps this is actually ICE operating the way it always has, but now everything the federal government does is under a microscope,” he said.
Hancock wants to make Georgia less friendly to unauthorized immigrants so they will move elsewhere. For example, he’d like to make English the state’s official language and impose stiff fines on employers who hire unauthorized immigrants.
“Self-deportation is the best option,” he said. “But I suppose that if ICE started conducting raids, that would contribute to an unfriendly environment for illegals.”
Staff writer Jeremy Redmon contributed to this report