While on the campaign trail, Donald Trump promised that if he became president, there would be mass deportations. Just weeks after his inauguration, he signed a series of anti-immigrant executive orders that served as a sort of blueprint. By February, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which reported a “boost in morale” upon the release of the orders, began its first in an ongoing series of mass arrests targeting undocumented communities. As a result, there has been a large uptick in the number of detainments and interior deportations for fiscal year 2017.
ICE arrested 143,470 people this year, according to numbers released the first week of December, marking a 25 percent increase over last year. But during the eight months following the signing of Trump’s anti-immigrant orders, ICE arrests jumped 40 percent compared to the same period last year. The number of people funneled into detention centers from within the country—meaning, those not apprehended at or near the border—also increased dramatically, up more than 40 percent since Trump took office.
And it appears there is no end in sight. The Trump administration is making moves to slash legal immigration, rescinding Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and ending temporary protected status (TPS) for several countries, while hinting that the humanitarian program may end entirely. This would subject well over one million more people to mass deportation.
It doesn’t end there. As Rewire reported, through the use of his anti-immigrant executive orders, Trump has effectively criminalized each of the approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants currently residing in the United States, while also removing their Privacy Act protections.
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Given how complex immigration enforcement has become, let’s take a closer look at who—and how—the Trump administration is targeting people for detainment and deportation, and what we believe we can expect more of in the new year.
Earlier this month, newly-minted Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said at a press conference that ICE agents “will no longer look the other way” when encountering “other immigration offenders” while in pursuit of “criminal aliens.” What Nielsen was saying is that when ICE officials are purportedly looking for a “criminal alien” during targeted enforcement, any undocumented immigrant they encounter in the vicinity will be detained for being in the United States without authorization.
In September, ICE conducted “Operation Safe City,” nationwide immigration raids that led to the apprehension of more than 450 undocumented immigrants, many of whom were not originally targeted by the raids. Of the 498 people taken into custody, 183 were collateral arrests.
As Rewire reported, Philip Miller, deputy executive associate director of Enforcement and Removal Operations for ICE, said at a Migration Policy Institute conference at Georgetown Law School in September that sanctuary cities were to blame for collateral arrests.
When jurisdictions choose not to honor ICE’s detainer requests—which are not mandatory or legally required, do not act as an arrest warrant, and do not indicate probable cause—ICE is “forced to conduct” enforcement on the streets, according to Miller.
Trump’s new DHS secretary may have suggested this is a new approach, but this has actually been ICE’s modus operandi for years, made possible through the Obama-era Criminal Alien Removal Initiative (CARI), which began in the spring of 2012.
While director of ICE’s New Orleans field office beginning in 2009, Miller led the charge on collateral arrests. The Nation reported in 2014 on Miller’s approach, which was so widespread advocates called it “stop and frisk for Latinos.”
Though it was nationwide, in New Orleans the policy “morphed into an aggressive initiative characterized by coordination between ICE and local police, and the use of mobile fingerprinting devices wielded against seemingly random groups of Latino residents,” the Nation reported. Immigrants targeted by these raids reported being detained at “checkpoint-style operations” at apartment complexes, grocery stores, soccer fields, and laundromats. And according to Nielsen, we can anticipate these operations ramping up under Trump.
ICE’s Operation Safe City, one of the immigration agency’s biggest immigration raids under Trump yet, has highlighted that violent criminals are not the main target for deportations. Of the 315 undocumented immigrants with “criminal convictions” targeted during the enforcement operation, the highest percentage—86 people—were marked for deportation because they were charged with driving under the influence.
This tactic is becoming increasingly common under the Trump administration. Beginning November 4, ICE apprehended 25 undocumented immigrants in Long Island, New York, as part of its “Operation Secure Streets.” Twenty-four were targeted because of a DUI-related conviction, according to the federal immigration agency.
Michael Admirand, senior legal counsel at Harvard Law School’s Fair Punishment Project, told Rewire in November that targeting people for DUI is a theme for the Trump administration.
“In September, during the nationwide raids that detained almost 500 people, the Trump administration said they were targeting violent criminals, like MS-13 gang members. By far, the most prominent conviction among those detained was DUI. There is a striking disconnect between the rhetoric the administration uses to justify these raids and the reality of who is actually being targeted,” Admirand said.
The administration routinely conflates the population it is actually targeting—undocumented immigrants who have had contact with the criminal justice system—with the gang members it is claiming to target. For example, in its press release regarding Operation Safe City, ICE claimed it was “prioritizing aliens with criminal convictions, pending criminal charges, known gang members and affiliates.” But the numbers provided by the agency in the same press release do not suggest that gang members or people who had committed serious crimes were either targeted or detained.
For U.S. citizens, the consequences that stem from a DUI charge differ depending on location. Generally, some type of alcohol treatment program is required, along with fines and temporary revocation of driving privileges. Some citizens may find it difficult to find employment after a DUI, primarily people of color, but after these conditions are met, those who abide by the law have their rights and privileges restored.
Undocumented immigrants experience the same penalties as Americans when it comes to being charged with a DUI, but they also face the very real threat of detention and deportation. According to ICE, the 25 people arrested during Operation Secure Streets were “being detained pending the completion of removal proceedings.”
Supposed Gang Ties
According to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, one of the primary goals of the Department of Justice (DOJ) this year was to target the transnational gang MS-13, which began in the streets of Los Angeles—a fact Trump and Sessions routinely fail to acknowledge. During remarks in Baltimore, Maryland, earlier this month, the attorney general asserted that the DOJ “secured convictions against more than 1,000 gang members” this year. But it remains unclear what criteria is being used to designate someone as a gang member, and even further, who among those alleged 1,000 were actually members of MS-13.
Targeting so-called gang members isn’t specific to Trump; it is a continuation of Obama-era policies. In June 2016, then-President Obama reiterated that his administration would continue focusing on apprehending gang members. “We prioritize criminals, we prioritize gang-bangers, we prioritize folks who have just come in,” he said. Lacking status in this country and being accused of being in a gang carries very serious implications because of a 2014 memorandum from DHS, as noted by Vice’s Aviva Stahl. Non-citizens with gang-related convictions—”aliens who intentionally participated in an organized gang to further the illegal activity of the gang”—became top priority for deportation. Thus, accusing an undocumented person of gang affiliation is the quickest way to get them deported.
A report by the University of California, Irvine School of Law outlined the very real consequences of alleged gang membership and the ways that undocumented immigrants are often wrongly labeled as gang members for subjective reasons. This was clearly illustrated at the start of the year when Trump kicked off his presidency with a series of nationwide raids that resulted in the detainment of nearly 700 people, including DACA recipient Daniel Ramirez Medina. Despite having DACA and despite meeting none of Trump’s priorities for deportation, ICE apprehended Ramirez Medina because of supposed gang affiliation. The proof cited by ICE? A single tattoo.
Back in February, North Carolina-based immigrant rights organizer Viridiana Martinez told Rewire that a tattoo can be used to build an entire case against someone.
“ICE has always used the gang member defense. I’ve heard that many, many times in cases I’ve worked,” Martinez told Rewire. “Whenever you get arrested and processed, they check you for tattoos. Depending on what tattoos you have, automatically they’ll categorize you as a gang member.”
This is why before Trump took office, advocates in some states were trying to block federal access to states’ gang databases. Yvette Cabrera of the Voice of OC reported in December 2016 that they were doing this “out of fears that the Trump administration will use it to deport unauthorized immigrants who’ve been erroneously labeled as gang members.”
As Rewire previously explained, there are local, state, and federal gang databases—and then some. The National Gang Unit of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) forges partnerships between ICE and local law enforcement. Through this arm of ICE, local and state law enforcement agencies work with HSI to locate and, in many cases, deport suspected undocumented gang members.
There are also gang databases maintained by ICE and the states. As Ali Winston reported at the Intercept in November 2016, “ICE’s system contains an unknown number of people, but there are more than 250,000 people in California’s and Texas’s gang databases alone, the majority of whom are Latino. These databases are populated with intelligence from street stops and arrests by local police, which is then uploaded and shared between agencies.”
State-level gang databases can vary considerably from community to community and state to state, mostly because law enforcement in the United States is decentralized. But state gang databases have controversial track records.
A 2016 audit of California’s CalGang database revealed rampant flaws, including the inclusion of 42 toddlers. Local law enforcement can enter people into their state’s gang database for subjective reasons, like tattoos. To be entered into the database in California, for example, one must only meet two out of ten criteria, putting people who are not “criminals” or gang members in direct threat of deportation, especially under the Trump administration.
What happened to Minerva Garcia in Winston Salem, North Carolina, was but a glimpse into a larger strategy being employed by ICE. The mother of three had been living in the United States for nearly two decades, had no criminal record, and had been checking in regularly with ICE for years. The federal immigration agency would routinely tell Garcia she wasn’t a priority for deportation—that was, until Trump took office.
In May, at a regularly scheduled immigration check-in, Garcia was told she had 30 days to leave the country. Stories like Garcia’s began to emerge across the United States: Undocumented immigrants who had deep roots in the United States were attending their regularly-scheduled check-ins with ICE, only to be detained on the spot or told they had 30 days to leave the country. Advocates began to call these “silent raids” and say they are becoming increasingly common.
Statistics from ICE show that 41,318 undocumented immigrants were arrested and scheduled for deportation in the first four months of 2017, marking a 38 percent increase over the first four months of 2016. Of those 41,318 immigrants detained, over 10,800 have no criminal record, marking a 153 percent increase from last year, according to the Huffington Post. Advocacy organizations report that silent raids largely attribute to those statistics.
“A key way the Trump Administration is running up its deportation numbers involves going after the undocumented immigrants who are easiest to find—those who have been checking in with ICE regularly for years under an exercise of prosecutorial discretion,” America’s Voice reported. “With few exceptions, ICE ‘check-ins’ are becoming ‘turn yourself in for deportation’ events. The Trump Administration doesn’t need to rely on raids when these ‘silent raids’ advance their goals of sowing fear among immigrants and deporting whoever they can get their hands on.”
Advocates say that the silent raids will likely ramp up in the New Year.
Trump has effectively used executive orders to criminalize 11 million people because they are simply in the United States without authorization, making whether or not people actually have criminal convictions a mute point. Under such an anti-immigrant administration, undocumented immigrants who have had interactions with the criminal justice system have become ICE’s easiest targets.
“Crimmigration,” a term coined in 2006 by legal scholar Juliet Stumpf, describes the intersection of criminal law and immigration law. The overlapping of these two systems allows the federal government to achieve two goals: detain people suspected of committing crimes and reduce the number of unauthorized immigrants in the country.
According to advocates, the primary reason the Trump administration has fought so hard against so-called sanctuary cities isn’t out of concern for safety, but rather to force local law enforcement to engage in crimmigration, bullying them into honoring ICE detainer requests, even for low-level crimes or when no charges have been made, for the purpose of funneling more undocumented immigrants into deportation proceedings.
Again, crimmigration isn’t specific to Trump. Some of the first laws that eventually led to crimmigration emerged under the Reagan administration and “subsequent ones were enacted with the blessings of both the Republican and Democratic presidents that followed,” journalist Tanvi Misra wrote. But under the Trump administration, there is no room for context or nuance, and even undocumented immigrants who have “paid” for their crimes are being targeted.
This is evidenced in the Trump administration’s targeting of those with DUIs and further illustrated in cases like Ingrid Encalada Latorre’s. The 34-year-old mother of two U.S.-citizen children spent the better part of seven years paying for a crime she committed, and for the bad legal advice she said an attorney gave her. Since 2010, Latorre has reportedly spent two-and-a-half-months in jail, four-and-a-half years on probation, and six months in sanctuary, as well as paid back taxes totaling $11,500. Despite all of the efforts she’s made to make amends, in October she was forced to re-enter sanctuary in Denver, Colorado, because she was being targeted for deportation back to Peru.
Trump’s efforts to force law enforcement to participate in crimmigration, while also drastically expanding the already unwieldy detention system and reducing standards of care inside these facilities, is already having dire consequences. There has already been one death in ICE immigrant detention in fiscal year 2018, and Karla Aranda fears that her husband Alfredo will be next.
Karla told Rewire her husband was wrongly convicted of a drug-related offense and was given poor legal advice by his then-attorney, who instructed Alfredo to plead no contest. He was sentenced to one year in prison, but after serving just a few weeks, he was transferred to ICE custody, despite being a legal permanent resident for decades. He has remained in ICE custody since August and despite having stage 3 kidney disease, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes, Alfredo has not been provided the dialysis he desperately requires.
Perhaps one of the most needlessly aggressive tactics used by ICE under Trump is the targeting of undocumented immigrants in jurisdictions that do not honor ICE detainers, for seemingly no other reason than retaliation.
As recently as December 13, ICE trumpeted its arrest of four undocumented immigrants in New York after they were released from law enforcement custody: “ICE arrests 4 released after detainers ignored,” the federal immigration agency’s headline read. The Trump administration apparently has gone to great lengths to retaliate against jurisdictions it perceives to be sanctuary cities, and ICE has followed suit.
In the weeks after Trump took office and began his attacks against so-called sanctuary cities, Texas’ Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez made headlines for implementing a policy that limited her jurisdiction’s cooperation with ICE, including refusing to honor ICE detainer requests to hold undocumented people for non-violent crimes. Hernandez’s policy was in direct opposition to the Trump administration’s efforts to force jurisdictions to hold undocumented people in custody until ICE detained them. Under Hernandez’s policy, a man named Juan Coronilla-Guerrero was one of the estimated 30 undocumented immigrants released from Travis County custody, despite having ICE detainers in their name.
In February, ICE conducted immigration raids in Austin, and it was revealed by a federal judge during a March court proceeding that these raids were conducted as retaliation against Hernandez for refusing to comply with ICE detainer requests. Guerrero was one of the undocumented immigrants targeted in ongoing Austin raids. In March, ICE took unprecedented steps to detain him, sending agents in plainclothes to apprehend him at his court hearing. What happened to Guerrero—his targeting as retaliation for sanctuary-city policies and his arrest at a court house—appear to have become regular practices for ICE. Guerrero’s family later reported that he was deported to his death. Guerrero’s story is one that advocates fear will become increasingly common as the Trump administration continues to ramp up detainments and deportations of immigrants in the United States.