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Many arrested in latest immigration sweep aren't violent offenders

FILE: A man is detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), agents on Oct.14, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.
FILE: A man is detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), agents on Oct.14, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.
John Moore/Getty Images

During a sweep this week targeting so-called "sanctuary cities," immigration officials arrested almost 500 immigrants, relatively few of whom were involved in violent crimes, according to federal numbers.

A list provided by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement shows more than 300 of those arrested had previous criminal convictions. By far the most common conviction was driving under the influence. The 86 DUI convictions, when combined with those with other traffic offenses, accounted for nearly a third of the crimes tabulated by ICE.

The numbers paint a somewhat different picture from that outlined by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. In July, Sessions criticized cities with immigrant-friendly law enforcement policies. He said steps the Trump administration was taking to discourage sanctuary policies would help officials "take down MS-13 and other violent transnational gangs, and make our country safer."

Some of those arrested in this week's sweep did have violent prior felony convictions, for offenses like assault and robbery. One individual was convicted of rape. A dozen had domestic violence convictions. Several had convictions for sex offenses, some involving minors. Eighteen were considered to be gang members or affiliates.

But others had prior convictions as minor as trespassing or disorderly conduct, or illegal entry, which is a misdemeanor.  Several of those with non-violent offenses had drug-related convictions.

Chris Newman, legal director for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network in Los Angeles, characterized the immigration enforcement sweeps as political.

“The way they politicize these enforcement operations is precisely intended to evoke fear, intended to have citizens become afraid of immigrants, and to have immigrants become afraid of ICE," Newman said.

Federal officials have conducted immigration sweeps for years, and have highlighted the arrests of people with criminal convictions, including those with minor ones.

After some jurisdictions began limiting cooperation with ICE in recent years during the Obama administration, immigration officials prioritized people with criminal convictions released from local jails.

This week, however, the immigration officials with the Trump administration made clear that they were targeting what they called "sanctuary" cities like L.A. with immigrant-friendly police policies, including not detaining immigrants for federal agents beyond their legally required release.

Acting ICE Director Thomas Homan harshly criticized such cities in an statement following the recent arrests: "Sanctuary jurisdictions that do not honor detainers or allow us access to jails and prisons are shielding criminal aliens from immigration enforcement and creating a magnet for illegal immigration."

Steven Camarota, with the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington, D.C. think tank that advocates for tighter restrictions, defended the Trump administration's enforcement actions.

"They would say they are not politicizing it," Camarota said. "They are doing it unapologetically, which the previous administration was not." 

Camarota said in his view, any kind of offense should warrant deportation.  

“Getting rid of people with criminal convictions, even if those convictions are only trespassing and invasion of privacy, still seems reasonable," he said. 

Among those arrested by ICE agents were more than 180 immigrants who did not have any criminal convictions.