US launches small-scale immigration raids

Customs and Border Protection agents stand at the San Ysidro Port of Entry on Feb 10. (AFP pic/Getty Images)

NEW MEXICO: US authorities launched small-scale operations to arrest undocumented families over the weekend in a start to President Donald Trump’s plan to deport thousands of immigrants.

The multi-day operation was expected to target around 2,000 recently-arrived families in about 10 cities who have been ordered to be deported by an immigration judge.

The removal operations are meant to deter a surge in Central American families fleeing poverty and gang violence in their home countries, with many seeking asylum in the United States.

Immigrants and their advocates were on standby for mass arrests, but by early evening there were reports of only a few low-profile operations in cities including New York, Denver and Miami.

“We are doing targeted enforcement actions against specific individuals who have had their day in immigration court and have been ordered removed by an immigration judge,” Acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director Matt Albence told Fox News when asked for an update.

Mary Bauer at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) said there were no confirmed operations in large southern cities such as Atlanta.

Nor were there reports of mass arrests from the American Immigration Council, which has lawyers on standby to help people taken to the country’s largest family detention centre in Dilley, Texas.

“Immigrants and immigrant communities all over the country are in hiding and people are living in these terrified, terrorised ways, because that is the point of this whole action, whether enforcement actions take place or not,” said Bauer, the SPLC’s deputy legal director.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said there were three ICE operations in his city on Saturday, with no reported arrests. He said there was no ICE activity in New York on Sunday.

In Denver, the Colorado Rapid Response Network of immigration activists said there were unconfirmed reports of ICE or police detaining three people on Sunday in the Potter Highlands area.

The Miami-based Florida Immigrant Coalition said immigrants were sheltering at home after ICE agents were seen in the area of the city’s international airport. No arrests were reported.

“They’ve been stocking up on groceries and making plans to stay in their homes with the lights off and the blinds down,” the group posted on Facebook. “Some are staying home from work.”

An ICE spokeswoman declined to comment on operations, citing the safety of the agency’s personnel.

Albence told Fox News that enforcement operations would target families who entered the country illegally then mostly failed to attend court hearings to pursue an asylum claim.

Immigration rights activists have said that in many cases immigrants do not receive proper notice of their court dates.

Democratic officials have told immigrants they have the right not to open their doors to ICE agents, unless presented with a warrant signed by a judge.

The Trump administration faces widespread criticism for housing immigrants in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions and there are concerns about migrant children being separated from adults by US authorities.

Amid protests outside many such facilities, a 69-year-old gunman was shot dead by police early on Saturday after he attacked an immigration detention center in Tacoma, Washington and set fire to at least one vehicle outside.