Increase in immigration enforcement worries activists

Arrests of immigrants have intensified over the last year under the Trump administration’s orders, causing anxiety in immigrant communities.

According to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) website, there was around a 30 percent uptick in immigration arrests in 2017 as compared to the previous year.

In 2017, there were more than 143,000 arrests made, up from roughly 110,100 in 2016.

There have been large sweeps recently in the Pacific Northwest, such as one sweep in March where 84 people were arrested in Washington and Oregon.

According to King5, 60 of the people arrested had criminal histories ranging from simple drug possession to assault. The remaining 24 had no criminal history.

But the re-invigoration of enforcement policies has led to concern from immigrant activists, including from the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP), which offers legal counsel to those detained.

While the Obama administration intensified deportations, it also prioritized violent offenders, said Matt Adams, a spokesperson for NWIRP.

The Trump White House issued a memo last January that removed the prioritization of violent offenders, resulting in ICE and federal prosecutors going after anyone it wants.

“They’ve been casting a much broader net than they were before,” Adams said. “… I don’t want to give the idea that everything was peaches and cream before Trump, there were still families getting torn apart.”

ICE is now targeting anyone in the country who is undocumented to boost their arrest numbers, Adams said.

The intensification of raids, such as workplace and home raids, has led to a feeling of fear within immigrant communities, even if the immigrants have legal status, Adams said.

ICE has also resorted to tactics Adams referred to as “shenanigans,” including one instance where he said ICE called a woman who was selling pinatas and asked her to sell them one.

When the woman met with who she thought were people interested in buying a pinata, she was arrested, Adams said.

ICE agents have also staged stings in courthouses, where undocumented immigrants are arrested after being witnesses in cases or simply watching family cases.

“They don’t care anymore if that person’s married to a U.S. citizen, or has a U.S. citizen child who has a severe illness, that’s not important to them,” Adams said.

Many people who immigrated to the U.S., even illegally, have legal protections and often a path to legal residency or citizenship.

Aggressive detention, prosecution and deportation have spawned mistrust with many communities, Adams said.

On top of that, Adams believes that government propaganda against immigrants has manifested in talk of getting rid of programs like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, building a border wall and aggressively targeting immigrants.

“So even those who have legal status now feel that they are the public enemy,” Adams said.

NWIRP provides counsel to many types of immigrants, and has especially focused on representing those detained at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma where around 1,500 people are incarcerated for issues related to immigration.

Since immigration violations are classified as a civil matter, ICE is not required to provide them with a lawyer.

This leads many immigrants to either seek legal assistance on their own, or face off against ICE and a federal prosecutor in court on their own.

“Our Department of Justice, which runs this system, doesn’t provide them with any sort of legal representation,” Adams said.

In an email, Yasmeen Pitts O’Keefe, an ICE spokesperson, declined an interview for this article and instead linked to a brief fact sheet.

“With extremely limited exceptions, DHS will not exempt classes or categories of removal aliens from potential enforcement,” the statement said.

The Seattle ICE office is part of a system in the Northwest that operates in Washington, Alaska and Oregon.

However, many local law enforcement agencies, including the Redmond Police Department, have said while they occasionally interact with ICE in felony cases, they do not get involved with immigration enforcement.

Many other agencies in King County and the state have similar positions.

“It has always been the agency’s position to seek straightforward cooperation with all local law enforcement and local elected officials,” O’Keefe said. “Despite the severe challenges, we remain committed to our public safety mission.”

Adams disagrees with the stated intention of increased ICE activities, saying he believes the department is just trying to bolster their arrest numbers instead of promoting public safety.

Other community organizations are also concerned, including the Redmond-based Muslim Association of Puget Sound (MAPS), said Mahmood Khadeer, MAPS president.

“Those most affected are families who are being broken apart when individual members are deported,” he said. “Nothing is more heart-wrenching than seeing children getting separated from their parents, loved ones from each other and people from their homes.”

MAPS has around 5,000 families in its community that can trace their roots to more than 40 countries, Khadeer said.

Khadeer said he supports protecting DACA recipients as well as changing the tone of immigration debates in the country.

“Never before have many of us experienced this level of antagonism because of our countries of origin,” he said. “The noxious effects such words are having on immigrant communities are very real.”

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