Arrests of immigrants with no criminal record spike in LA

FILE: A photo released by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement shows an arrest during an ICE operation.
FILE: A photo released by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement shows an arrest during an ICE operation.
Charles Reed/U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement/AP

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Immigrants taken into custody who have no criminal history are on the rise in Southern California as they are around the nation, according to data from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Early last year, President Trump lifted Obama-era policies that kept immigration agents focused on criminals. Since then, administrative arrests of immigrants in the Los Angeles region with no known criminal background have more than tripled. 

According to immigration officials, 834 non-criminal arrests were made locally between January 2017 and last September, compared with 244 during the same period in 2016. Local arrests of immigrants with criminal records rose slightly from 5,444 during January to September 2016 to 5,829 in the same period a year later.

The numbers include arrests in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.

Nationwide, non-criminal arrests in the interior of the U.S. rose from 5,014 to 13,744 between fiscal years 2016 and 2017. 

The arrests reflect the Trump administration's focus on enforcement in the interior of the country as arrests at the border have fallen dramatically. The administration has also stepped up "at-large" arrests in communities around the country as many local jurisdictions, including California and cities like Los Angeles, have become less willing to cooperate with immigration authorities.

The stepped up enforcement follows the president's campaign promise to deport any unauthorized immigrant, estimated at 11 million people in 2015. 

An ICE report on arrests and deportations for fiscal 2017 cites a Trump executive order from January 2017 that gave Homeland Security free rein to arrest any deportable immigrant. ICE officials wrote, "the Department has directed that classes or categories of removable aliens are no longer exempted from potential enforcement."  

"ICE is very clear," said Louis DeSipio, a University of California, Irvine political scientist who studies immigration policy. "They don't have the limits now that they had in the previous administration. Under President Obama, certainly later in his term, ICE focused its energies on folks with outstanding orders of deportation and individuals with serious criminal convictions."

Emily Robinson, co-director of Loyola Law School's Immigrant Justice Clinic in Los Angeles, said she's been seeing more arrests of individuals with no criminal history since the inauguration last year.

Most of these are "individuals who are either collateral to an arrest of someone who might have criminal issues or other immigration violations, or individuals who have been seized for no reason at things like ICE check-ins or in community spaces," Robinson said. 

Last year, KPCC reported on a jump in the reopening of deportation cases involving people who had no criminal history and whose cases had been administratively shelved by the Obama administration.

The fear that no one is safe from deportation has rattled immigrant communities, Robinson said.

"For the most part, people are so afraid that they won't even go to the grocery store," she said. "They are afraid to take their kids to school."

ICE officials said they are doing their job to maintain public safety.

"The FY2017 statistics clearly demonstrate ICE’s continued commitment to identifying, arresting, and removing aliens who are in violation of U.S. law, particularly those posing a public safety or national security threat, while restoring fidelity to the rule of law," according to the arrests report.

While arrests are up nationwide, overall removals from the country for fiscal year 2017 are down from the previous year. ICE officials cite a drop in border arrests for this decline while noting that deportations for immigrants arrested in the interior of the country are up, from 65,332 to 81,603.