Nineteen people in South Carolina were among hundreds arrested in a coordinated immigration action across the country last week.
Federal immigration officials said 75 percent of those arrested as part of the coordinated raids were “criminal aliens” previously convicted of crimes in the United States. The rest simply may have been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Those arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement were targeted because of their prior convictions – ranging from homicide, sex crimes and drug trafficking to battery, DUI and weapons charges – as well as people with outstanding deportation orders or who had re-entered the country after being removed.
It’s not immediately clear what the 19 people arrested in South Carolina were charged with. The Island Packet identified 11 individuals in Beaufort County alone who were detained by ICE, at least some of whom appear to have outstanding immigration orders, according to local immigration attorneys.
“ICE conducts these kind of targeted enforcement operations regularly and has for many years,” John Kelly, the U.S. secretary of Homeland Security, said in a statement. “The focus of these enforcement operations is consistent with the routine, targeted arrests carried out by ICE’s Fugitive Operations teams on a daily basis.”
If someone without a prior criminal record was detained, he or she would not have been targeted individually, said ICE Southern Region spokesman Bryan Cox. Instead, the individual would have been identified by agents as undocumented in the course of detaining someone else targeted for deportation.
Those individuals would still be entitled to appear in immigration court and make a case for staying in the country before they would be deported, Cox said.
Even if you had a minor conviction years ago, Trump has indicated that, ‘In my administration, I’d rather you get called in.’
Tammy Besherse, immigration attorney
But in South Carolina’s immigrant community, fear and rumor have many believing ICE is rounding up people in schools and churches, or going door to door to find undocumented immigrants – something even ICE says they don’t have the manpower to do.
“If they go to an address, it’s because they have a warrant,” said Tammy Besherse, immigration policy director with the S.C. Appleseed Legal Justice Center.
But the fear is caused by the shift in deportation priorities between the Obama and Trump administrations.
“The Obama administration said, ‘it’s not realistic that we’re going to get everyone, so let’s go after gang bangers,’” Besherse said. “With Trump, it seems like it changes daily... even if you had a minor conviction years ago, Trump has indicated that, ‘in my administration, I’d rather you get called in.’”
Besherse is advising clients to consult with an immigration attorney even if they aren’t currently facing deportation – and to plan for what happens if they eventually do.