Washington: US authorities arrested hundreds of undocumented migrants this week in the first large-scale raids under President Donald Trump, triggering panic in immigrant communities nationwide.
The federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency rounded up undocumented individuals living in Atlanta, Austin, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and other cities two weeks after Trump signed an executive order that broadened which undocumented immigrants would be targeted for deportation.
According to ICE, however, the operations were “routine”.
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“The focus of these operations is no different than the routine, targeted arrests carried out by ICE’s Fugitive Operations Teams on a daily basis,” said agency spokeswoman Jennifer Elzea.
David Marin, head of ICE’s removal operations in Los Angeles, told reporters that approximately 160 people had been arrested in the California metropolis.
Some 75 per cent of them had prior felony convictions, he said, adding that some people had been nabbed solely because they were undocumented.
By Friday night, 37 undocumented immigrants had already been expelled to Mexico.
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In a January 25 decree, Trump prioritised the deportation of undocumented males who had been convicted of or “charged with any criminal offense,” including misdemeanours.
The order was a move to make good on his campaign pledge to crack down on America’s undocumented population, estimated at 11 million people.
Marin said the operations were planned prior to Trump’s swearing-in and were comparable to past actions. He rebuffed reports about ICE checkpoints and random sweeps, calling them “dangerous and irresponsible.”
“Reports like that create panic, and they put communities and law enforcement personnel in unnecessary danger,” Marlin said.
The raids, which hit residential areas and workplaces, sparked protests and provoked the ire of elected Democratic representatives, notably in California and particularly in Los Angeles, where the Pew Research Centre estimates around a million undocumented migrants reside.
“President Trump’s policy change betrays our values,” Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein said in a statement. “Tearing families apart isn’t what this country stands for.”
In Austin, Texas, where 100,000 unauthorised migrants live, a bystander captured video footage of an arrest, which made local front-page news and ignited demonstrations. Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro of Texas confirmed the launch of a “targeted operation” aimed at arresting the undocumented.