Federal immigration agents spread across Southern California this week and detained more than 160 foreign nationals, stoking fears among state elected officials and advocacy groups that the Trump administration will make good on its promise to ratchet up the deportation of undocumented immigrants.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents concluded a five-day operation around Los Angeles on Friday. ICE does not use the term “raid” and said it “regularly conducts targeted enforcement surges” like the operation it ran this week.
ICE spokesman James Schwab said the agency had not launched any large-scale operations this week in the Sacramento region or Northern California. ICE was holding 159 suspects Friday at the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center in Elk Grove, a facility run by the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department. On Jan. 23, the agency was holding 149 suspects at the jail.
The state’s top elected leaders quickly and harshly criticized the wave of arrests in six counties Southern California counties.
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State Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León said on CNN that reports of mass arrests by ICE agents had sparked “anxiety” in the state.
“There is a lot of panic, there is a lot of fear in immigrant communities throughout the state of California,” he said.
President Donald Trump signed an executive order last month that moved forward on hiring thousands of immigration agents, stripped funding from so-called sanctuary cities that don’t help enforce federal immigration laws and called for the construction of a massive wall on the border with Mexico.
The executive order also widely broadened the definition of undocumented immigrants who will be targeted for deportation to include those suspected of crimes or who are considered risks to public safety by immigration officers. Prior policies had largely targeted undocumented immigrants who committed serious crimes.
“(Reports of mass arrests) show the serious consequences of the president’s executive order, which allows all undocumented immigrants to be categorized as criminals and requires increased enforcement in communities, rather than prioritizing dangerous criminals,” said U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., in a written statement.
Immigration advocates cited reports around the country of ICE agents conducting large raids and checkpoints. ICE said in a news release those reports “are false, dangerous and irresponsible.”
“These reports create panic and put communities and law enforcement personnel in unnecessary danger,” the agency said in a written statement.
Instead, ICE said it targeted “at-large criminal aliens, illegal re-entrants, and immigration fugitives” in the Los Angeles area.
The agency did not release a full list of those arrested or the charges against the suspects, but said it included a gang member from El Salvador, a Brazilian national wanted in his home nation for cocaine trafficking and “an Australian national taken into custody in West Hollywood who was previously convicted of lewd and lascivious acts with a child.”