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Even Though We’re In The Midst Of A Pandemic, ICE Just Conducted The Largest Immigration Sweep In Months

Although communities across the country – particularly the Latinx community – continue to be ravaged by Coronavirus, U.S. immigration officials are still enforcing inhumane immigration policies.

In cities across the U.S., Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials made thousands of arrests over recent weeks. These arrests are part of the largest immigration sweep since the pandemic began and mean that more people will be put in danger as they’re forced into detention centers which have become a hotbed of Coronavirus infections.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers took thousands of people into custody in 24 cities across the country.

A six-week ICE operation resulted in more than 2,000 arrests of undocumented immigrants, in 24 cities across the U.S. The operation, which ran from July to August, led to arrests in communities across the country, CBS News reports.

Officials charge that the enforcement efforts were focused on those with criminal convictions and charges, but they admit that there were also arrests of some undocumented immigrants with clean records.

As part of the operation, ICE agents made “at-large” arrests, which could take place at residences, worksites and traffic stops, across the country, including in large metropolitan areas like Los Angeles, where the ICE field office apprehended the most immigrants. ICE said the operation targeted undocumented immigrants and others subject to deportation who had been charged or convicted of a crime involving a victim.

Asked by CBS News how the recent arrests of immigrants without convictions or charges conformed with that announcement, Henry Lucero, ICE’s executive associate director, offered a clarification of the so-called “enforcement posture.”

“We never said we were going to stop arresting individuals,” Lucero said in a call with reporters. “We said we were going to prioritize and focus on those that are public safety threats. And that’s exactly what we did during this operation.”

He added, “We never stated we’re … going to stop arresting any type of immigration violator. We continue to arrest immigration violators. We use discretion when appropriate. That will remain in effect until further notice.”

Although ICE says it’s limited its enforcement activities because of the pandemic, this is the largest sweep in months.

Credit: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

It took awhile for ICE to finally adjust its enforcement posture once the pandemic hit, but ICE did finally announce certain changes. The agency said it’s limited its operations to avoid outbreaks among detainees – and the hard numbers to paint this picture. So far this fiscal year, ICE has made 94,5000 arrests inside communities, compared to 143,000 at this time last year.

In March, ICE announced that it would focus its enforcement efforts on those with certain criminal records and those deemed a public threat.

ICE and its enforcement priorities under President Trump have become a focal point of the nation’s broader debate around immigration, with some Democratic lawmakers calling for the agency to be abolished. Advocates for immigrants have also criticized ICE’s response to the spread of the coronavirus inside its sprawling immigration detention system, which is the largest in the world. 

Meanwhile, many of these migrants will be forced into detention centers that are becoming hubs of Covid-19 infections.

Credit: Gregory Bull / Getty Images

Already the 2020 fiscal year (which ends September 30) is tied with 2006 for the highest number of migrant deaths in ICE custody – the vast majority of whom have died of Covid-19 related complications. Just this week, a 50-year-old man from Honduras became the system’s latest victim and the 19th to die so far.

Meanwhile, more than 5,300 immigrants have tested for the Coronavirus while in custody. That number doesn’t take into account the risks fro communities and employees.

ICE says that they’re making adjustments, pointing out that the agency’s detainee population has plummeted during the pandemic, declining to roughly 21,000 this week. However, raids like the ones over the last few weeks will likely increase that population.

“There is still a pandemic raging,” Reichlin-Melnick told CBS News. “ICE should not be engaging in large-scale enforcement actions that send people to detention centers where the virus is rampant.”

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