Federal immigration agents have arrested more than 680 people nationwide since last week, including more than 100 in the Carolinas, in the Trump administration's first major crackdown on people in the country illegally. U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly acknowledged the operations in a statement Monday, saying about three-quarters of those arrested were a threat to public safety. But local immigration lawyers and immigrants say the new administration is sowing fear by casting a wider net.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, began a wave of arrests last week in five areas of the country, including the Carolinas. ICE downplays the arrests, calling them routine "enforcement and removal" operations. But on Twitter over the weekend, President Donald Trump called it a "crackdown" and took credit for fulfilling a campaign promise.
The campaign has left immigrants - legal or not - angry and afraid, Charlotte immigration lawyer Ben Snyder said Monday.
"The mood is definitely one of fear and apprehension. People are afraid to leave their homes, people are afraid to go to work. People are afraid to bring their kids to school. That's what we've seen,” Snyder said.
ICE says it's targeting criminals, as always. But now it's also going after people facing deportation orders who have been allowed to stay for family and other reasons, as long as they check in regularly. That’s called an “order of supervision.”
“Folks who've been on orders of supervision for 4-5-6 years or longer, are now getting detained at their regular check-in,” he said.
They include people with children or spouses who are U.S. citizens, those with sick parents here, and those without criminal records, Snyder said. They've been following the rules, but the rules have changed.
Immigration lawyer Joan Waldron said that describes one of her clients, a carpet installer from Honduras. Although he was ordered deported about eight years ago, he's been allowed to remain in the country with his wife and children. Think of it as a suspended sentence.
With the change in policy, the sentence is being carried out. He was arrested last Wednesday at his latest check-in. Waldron says other clients also have been arrested unexpectedly and she's hearing the same from other lawyers.
“It's absolutely more than we've seen in the past,” Waldron said.
She said ICE now is arresting not just criminals, but also those who've been cleared of or never charged with crimes. The new policy is so broad, she said, that it could be interpreted to apply all 11 million people living in the country without permission.
And it’s made things more difficult for immigration lawyers, too, Waldron said. For example, what do you tell a client going for a regular check-in, now that ICE is arresting people at those kinds of meetings.
Manolo Betancur is from Colombia and now a U.S. citizen. He owns Las Delicias Bakery on Central Avenue in Charlotte and worries the crackdown will hurt his business. He's already heard some Latinos talking about leaving the city, and he's thinking about it, too.
“If this is going to happen here, I'm just going to close the doors of my business and I'm going to start my business somewhere else where we are welcome,” Betancur said.
In a broader sense, the Trump administration's crackdown affects not only those here illegally, but any immigrant. Atenas Burrola, a lawyer and director of the Immigrant Integration Center at the Charlotte Latin American Coalition, said it sends a message: “… that immigrants are not welcome, that the United States does not want immigrants, does not appreciate immigrants.”
To Burrola, it's just one of many signs that the U.S. - a nation of immigrants – is now less welcoming to those from somewhere else.
ACLU.org, “Know your rights: What to do if you’re stopped by the police, immigration agents, or the FBI” – Charlotte immigration lawyer Cynthia Aziz provided this link, and said most of those arrested are entitled to a hearing.
Feb. 13, 2017, Department of Homeland Security, DHS.gov, “Statement From Secretary Kelly On Recent ICE Enforcement Actions.”
ARRESTS IN THE CAROLINAS
The ICE regional office in Atlanta says a total of 197 people in the U.S. illegally were arrested last week in the Carolinas and Georgia. A spokesman said ICE typically makes about 200 arrests in a week in the region, most of them who already were facing deportation orders, who had been deported and re-entered the U.S. or who are "at-large criminal aliens."
More information from ICE for the period Monday, Feb. 6, to Friday, Feb. 10:
- 87 arrests were in Georgia
- 84 in North Carolina
- 19 in South Carolina
- 17 of the 190 arrested in the Carolinas and Georgia had outstadning final orders of removal (deportation orders)
- 29 had previously been deported, but returned again illegally
- 127 had prior criminal convictions and were found to be here illegally.
- A man arrested in Georgia wanted in his home country of Mexico on charges of murder and attempted murder.
- A Mexican national arrested in the Charlotte area who previously was convicted on three counts of indecent liberties with a child. He also had been deported and returned illegally, ICE said.
- A Mexican national arrested in the Atlanta area who previously pleaded guilty to felony charges of distributing cocaine.
SOURCE: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement