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UPDATE: Immigration attorneys report ICE raids on Buford Highway

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UPDATE: Immigration attorneys report ICE raids on Buford Highway

Photo illustration obtained via https://www.ice.gov/

Photo illustration obtained via https://www.ice.gov/

Immigration attorneys have confirmed social media reports that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement conducted raids on Buford Highway on Feb. 9.

The round ups of undocumented citizens are routine. But Sarah Owings, who chairs the Georgia-Alabama chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said ICE’s priorities have changed under President Trump. She said under President Obama, ICE primarily targeted violent criminals. Now, the department is going after “low-hanging fruit,” like people who have traffic offenses.

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“They were using what limited resources they had on things they considered to be important, what was best to keep the country safe,” she said. “Now it’s going to be more like a fire hose. It’s going to go everywhere.”

A spokesperson for ICE said the raids are not new and are not casting a wide a net as the attorneys claim.

“Every day, as part of routine targeted enforcement operations, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Fugitive Operations teams arrest criminal aliens and other individuals who are in violation of our nation’s immigration laws,” ICE spokesperson Bryan Cox said. “ICE conducts targeted immigration enforcement in compliance with federal law and agency policy. ICE does not conduct sweeps or raids that target aliens indiscriminately.”

Cox could not immediately provide specific information about the Buford Highway raids, but said, “We probably did have an operation up there.”

“The perception certainly is that this is new or expanded or something of that nature. Yes we have fugitive operations teams,” Cox said. “These are established fugitive operations teams that have been existence. We’re continuing to conduct enforcement in the same manner.”

Cox said that the Atlanta Field Office, which covers Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina, reported 200 arrests this week which he said were “evenly split” between the three states. He said more precise data would be available next week and said the “majority” are convicted criminals. When asked if ICE has expanded its priority list to include people who have minor offenses, he pointed to a recent presidential executive order titled, “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States.”

Section 5 reads as follows:

Sec. 5.  Enforcement Priorities.  In executing faithfully the immigration laws of the United States, the Secretary of Homeland Security (Secretary) shall prioritize for removal those aliens described by the Congress in sections 212(a)(2), (a)(3), and (a)(6)(C), 235, and 237(a)(2) and (4) of the INA (8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(2), (a)(3), and (a)(6)(C), 1225, and 1227(a)(2) and (4)), as well as removable aliens who:

(a)  Have been convicted of any criminal offense;

(b)  Have been charged with any criminal offense, where such charge has not been resolved;

(c)  Have committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense;

(d)  Have engaged in fraud or willful misrepresentation in connection with any official matter or application before a governmental agency;

(e)  Have abused any program related to receipt of public benefits;

(f)  Are subject to a final order of removal, but who have not complied with their legal obligation to depart the United States; or

(g)  In the judgment of an immigration officer, otherwise pose a risk to public safety or national security.

“I don’t think anyone would dispute the read the pool of individuals has been broadened versus what it was before,” Cox said. “What I can tell you is when our teams go out … our focus still is on those who pose the greatest threat.”

He said fugitive operations target specific individuals. He said during these operations, officers may also come across individuals who meet the new enforcement priorities. But he said there’s some latitude as far as who will be arrested.

“If that person also has a violent felony conviction, the fact they have children is going to be weighted,” he said.

Owings said ICE agents took 40 people into custody in Savannah yesterday. WTOC in Savannah reported that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which oversees ICE, arrested 26 suspected undocumented immigrants. Owings said she was still working to gather details about how many people were arrested on Buford Highway.

She said the concern among attorneys is that people who might be eligible to remain in the United States are being caught up in raids.

“We’re hearing reports they’re taking into custody anyone else in the house,” she said.

But if people are here legally it shouldn’t be a concern, right?

“People who are eligible for benefits are deported before they have an opportunity to fight for their cases,” Owings said. “It’s about the people around them. You’ll see a lot of permanent resident family members who are about to suffer tremendous loss. The human impact on people cannot be understated, how devastating it is. We do need immigration reform. It’s not a black and white situation and anyone who says it is doesn’t know anything about immigration law.”

On Friday afternoon, the Washington Post reported that there were “sweeping” immigration enforcement raids in six states.

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