Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers have arrested hundreds of people in a nationwide sweep in what they called a routine “enforcement surge.”
The moves, however, were seen by immigration advocates as a consequence of President Donald Trump’s recent executive orders on immigration.
According to officials cited by The Associated Press, the five-day operation was designed to round up undocumented immigrants who have criminal histories and pending deportation orders.
Hundreds of arrests — from Atlanta to Chicago to New York, Los Angeles, North Carolina, and South Carolina — drew backlash from several immigration advocacy groups. ICE officials arrested about 160 people in Southern California alone.
“This is not normal,” said Angelica Salas, the Director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) in a news conference on Friday. “We have responded to raids in the past and this is what sweeps … large numbers of people picked up in a very short period of time, look like,” she said.
Though attorneys and immigration advocates accused ICE agents of using traffic stops and checkpoints as part of the enforcement surge, the agency denied those allegations, The Associated Press said, citing agency officials who warned that the “rash of recent reports about purported ICE checkpoints and random sweeps are false, dangerous, and irresponsible.”
According to an unnamed Department of Homeland Security official cited by The Washington Post, civilians who lacked documentation, but had no criminal history were also rounded up alongside people known by the agency to have criminal records — a result of Trump’s recently expanded immigration rules.
“Big cities tend to have a lot of illegal immigrants,” the DHS official said. “They’re going to a target-rich environment.”
“We cannot understate the level of panic and terror that is running through many immigrant communities,” said Walter Barrientos, a member of the nonprofit organization Make the Road New York.
Barrientos said ICE agents were “not just detaining individuals they are looking for … but in fact, taking anyone else in the community, or in these homes who does not have immigration status at the moment, or who is not able to prove citizenship.”
Marlene Mosqueda, whose father was picked up by ICE agents during the sweep, described her experience in a news conference: “It wasn’t just my dad … it was someone else they came to [search for]. And they didn’t even have ICE on them, titled,” she said, apparently referring to department identification. “That’s what is pissing me off: that they came in with the police sign on their backs. They weren’t even ICE.”
CHIRLA Director Salas accused ICE of “denying information and misleading attorneys.”
An Immigration Customs and Enforcement spokesperson did not immediately return Business Insider’s request for comment.
“Every immigrant needs to speak out,” Mosqueda said. “We need to unite as one, we need to be together, we need to support each other.”
The arrests came the same week Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly testified before Congress that the department was frustrated with the Obama administration’s lenient policy toward undocumented immigrants who committed no serious crimes.
“I think their morale has suffered because of the job they were hired to do, and then in their sense, they’re … kind of hobbled or, you know, hands tied behind their back, that kind of thing,” Kelly said. “And now, they feel more positive about things. I bet if you watch the morale issue, you’ll … be surprised going forward.”
Government data compiled by the Pew Research Center estimates that the majority of the 11.1 million undocumented immigrants living in the US reside in New York, Los Angeles, and Houston.