ICE doesn’t conduct ‘raids,’ Phoenix field director says. But data shows a different focus, critics say – AZCentral

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A local ICE official is pushing back against growing criticism of the agency’s immigration crackdowns under President Donald Trump’s administration.

Albert Carter, acting field office director for ICE’s Phoenix office of enforcement and removal operations, said the agency does not target people indiscriminately.

Rather, the agency uses its limited resources to target individuals who pose the greatest threat to public safety and border security, Carter said.

“First and foremost, ICE does not conduct raids,” Carter said. “ICE conducts targeted enforcement operations. Raid implies to me that we are just out willy-nilly picking up individuals. That is not the case.”

Carter made the comments to local reporters recently in support of an open letter defending the agency’s operations. The letter signed by ICE field office directors was posted on ICE’s website on Sept. 12.

“Across the country, a national debate about current and future U.S. immigration policy is growing louder by the day,'” the letter states. It says as field office directors who oversee the offices that enforce immigration laws within the U.S., “we want to set the record straight.”

‘A lot of contradictions’

Immigration experts, however, said the memo contradicts Trump’s get tough on illegal immigration rhetoric. The letter is also contradicted by ICE’s own data, which shows that under the Trump administration, immigration arrests have soared and become less targeted compared with the final years of the Obama administration. 

“There are a lot of contradictions of what the president says and what our analysis says and this (letter) seems to be some public messaging to not look as bad,” said Guillermo Cantor, director of research at the American Immigration Council.

The council is a nonprofit advocacy group that has challenged several of the Trump administration’s immigration enforcement policies.

In July, Trump announced that federal immigration authorities planned to carry out mass immigration enforcement operations across several cities that he said would result in the arrest of thousands and perhaps millions of migrants, including parents who had arrived with children.

The president’s announcement of mass arrests sparked fear and anxiety in immigrant neighborhoods throughout the country, but in the end failed to materialize, prompting advocates to conclude Trump’s comments were largely intended to stoke panic.

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Demonstrators chant “Free those kids!” and hold “Abolish ICE” signs in downtown Phoenix Friday, July 12, 2019, to protest the Trump administration’s roundup of undocumented migrants set to begin Sunday.
Nick Oza, The Republic | azcentral.com

What’s more, a report that analyzed ICE data by the American Immigration Council found that under the Trump administration, the agency has cast a wider net, moving away from focusing resources first on public safety threats. Instead, under the Trump administration, ICE now treats all infractions equally, resulting in the arrests of more immigrants for simple traffic offenses and no other criminal record.

Total ICE arrests jumped 44% from fiscal year 2016 to fiscal year 2018, the report found.

Arrests conducted in the community, as opposed to in prison or jails, increased 32%, the report found, while the number of deportations attributable to arrests by ICE increased 46%.

The report also found that ICE encounters of U.S. citizens jumped 363%, to 27,540 during the first year of the Trump administration from 5,940 during the last year of the Obama administration.

The sharp increase in U.S. citizen encounters indicates ICE is targeting individuals in the community based on physical appearance rather than on investigative evidence, Cantor said.

“That suggests that people who may look ‘deportable’ or who may look like an ‘undocumented immigrant’ or based on some characteristics we don’t know are being subjected to encounters,” Cantor said.

Concern over public protests

The letter signed by ICE field office directors also attacks the mounting protests in cities across the country to ICE’s immigration enforcement crackdowns, saying they can lead to violence.

“It greatly concerns us when advocacy groups, citizens and politicians share and support incorrect or misleading information abut our mission that is a vital part of national security and public safety,” the letter states. “These misconceptions may lead to violence.”

The letter referenced two incidents over the summer. 

On July 12, police fatally shot a man who was attacking an immigration detention center in Tacoma, Washington, according to media reports. The attack happened on the same morning demonstrations were planned in cities across the U.S. protesting Trump’s prediction of mass migrant arrests by ICE.

In August, shots were fired at a building housing an ICE enforcement and removal operations office in San Antonio, prompting immigration officials to blame “political rhetoric and misinformation.”

Randy Capps, director of research of U.S. programs at the Migration Policy Institute, a nonprofit think tank, said the letter was “unusually defensive.”

On one hand, the letter contradicts earlier rhetoric by ICE officials under the Trump administration that “we are targeting all unauthorized immigrants. Everybody should be afraid and look over their shoulders,” Capps said. “They were kind of promoting this image of being tough and going after everyone, and this oddly goes against that.”

On the other, the letter seems to express concern over the growing polarization over immigration policy and a backlash directed at ICE officers, he said.

“I understand where they think this is coming from. As law enforcement officers, they are genuinely concerned about their safety because of the shots fired,” he said.

But the letter also seemed aimed at discrediting criticism of the Trump administration’s immigration enforcement policies by conflating it with violence.

“Sort of amplifying the threat to officers and conflating any form of opposition to ICE with violence — which they do conflate in this — I think purposely that is a Trump administration tactic to label the opposition to their policies as dangerous.”

Reach the reporter at daniel.gonzalez@arizonarepublic.com or at 602-444-8312. Follow him on Twitter @azdangonzalez.

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