More undocumented immigrants are being swept up in immigration raids targeting their friends, neighbors and coworkers.
Under the Trump Administration’s new enforcement priorities, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents are instructed to detain and deport anyone who is in the country illegally, which means even so-called “non-targets” may end up in custody after a raid.
“The biggest change is under the previous Administration, there were a lot of individuals that were not considered amenable to arrest that now, since the change in Administration, our director has said there are not going to be any classes or categories of removable aliens that are exempt,” says ICE spokeswoman Danielle Bennett.
In a four-day operation at the end of July, ICE arrested 650 people. Of those, 457 weren’t targets of the raid. In other words, a full 70% of the immigrants swept up in this operation were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Andrew Nietor, an immigration lawyer based in San Diego, said that under the Obama Administration, many of these people would have never ended up in deportation proceedings, because they weren’t seen as a priority. The focus then was on people who had aggravated felony convictions or who were recidivists. That’s changed.
“I know that a lot of my colleagues are getting clients who literally are pastors, or people that qualify for DACA but they just happened to be visiting a family member when ICE was there, so they just got swept up,” he said.
ICE doesn’t track data over time of how many non-targets are apprehended in raids, so it’s hard to say how dramatic the change is.
But data on deportees who didn’t have criminal records show only a minor increase. In fiscal year 2016, non-criminals made up 42% of removals. Under the Trump Administration, that proportion has so far increased slightly. According to data provided to TIME by ICE, which is not considered final until the end-of-year report, 44% of removals haven’t had criminal records so far in fiscal year 2017.
“It’s basically a push through a lot of different ways to try to deport as many people as possible without regard to whether or not they’re a public safety threat,” says Kate Voigt, associate director of government relations at the American Immigration Lawyers Association. (It’s worth noting that overall deportation levels are actually lagging behind the rate of President Obama’s tenure, despite Trump’s promise of a crackdown.)
Bennett said ICE agents won’t always arrest non-targets if they find them during a raid; if there are children present, for example, or other extenuating circumstances that the agents decide mean they shouldn’t take the others into custody. But she says the new priorities give the agents the much-needed freedom to make these determinations on their own.
“I think that our agency now feels that we can make arrests. They’re in compliance with federal law, there aren’t the restrictions,” she said. “It allows more flexibility for the officers to make decisions from their personal dealings with the person.”
But some immigration advocates worry that loosening restrictions won’t be a good thing.
“Now I think there’s a question of well, what was the prevailing attitude if there’s suddenly this almost equal fulfillment of being able to do whatever you want without consequence or oversight?” says Avideh Moussavian, senior policy attorney at the National Immigration Law Center. “If that’s the culture of the agency, now it’s allowed to go forth unfettered by rules or regulations or guidance or parameters, that is obviously a massive cause for alarm for people who are not just lawyers, but everyone who is interacting on a daily basis with immigrant community members.”