In the days since immigration authorities arrested 680 people who were in the country illegally, local attorney Cassandra Rodriquez said she has been getting an influx of calls from people who are concerned, asking her, “do I need to be worried?”
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) characterized the raids in one dozen states as routine, but immigrant rights groups said the actions were out of the ordinary and that most of those swept up posed no legitimate threats to public safety.
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“These are people who don’t have criminal convictions, who don’t have prior deportations,” Rodriquez, a Fairfield-based lawyer, said. “It is a tough question because the answer is “maybe yes, maybe no.” The fact that they are rounding up people collaterally does not mean that all of those people will be deported necessarily.”
The Department of Homeland Security, which oversees ICE, said Monday that approximately 75 percent of those arrested were “criminal aliens,” including some who had been convicted of crimes such as homicide, sexual assault of a minor and drug trafficking.
Asked to provide further clarification, a DHS official confirmed that the term “criminal aliens” includes anyone who had entered the United States illegally or overstayed or violated the terms of a visa. There are an estimated 11 million people in the United States who fit that profile.
ICE declined to provide the names and locations of those who were detained in the raids, nor would the agency say how many of the 680 people had committed serious crimes.
ICE carried out the arrests in New York, California, Illinois, Texas, Missouri, Kansas, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, Indiana and Wisconsin. Of those, about a quarter had no prior convictions.
This is the concerning part about the raids, Rodriquez said.
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“If they knock on your door and they are looking for somebody else, they might take you as well even if you are not guilty of any of the violations or in the category they are looking for,” she said. “Even if you are just here legally, technically, they can put you in immigration proceedings to be removed from the country.”
Rodriquez squashed the belief some hold that the raids started with President Donald Trump coming into office.
“This is the sort of thing we were seeing back in the beginning of President (Barack) Obama’s first term in office. We were seeing very heavy enforcement,” she explained. “We were seeing raids and people getting scooped up. They weren’t necessarily being sought after, but they were collateral damage.”
Obama, who deported more people than any president, in his second term prioritized deportations to target public safety threats over other people with less-serious criminal violations.
Chris Link, executive director of ACLU Ohio, said law enforcement agencies like ICE “certainly have a right to enforce the law,” but that immigrants should know that they have a right to counsel and should not sign anything until consulting with an attorney.
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Although the Butler County Sheriff’s Office, Hamilton and Middletown police departments reported no raids in Butler County, Hamilton resident Holly Young said she and others in the immigrant community are unsettled.
Young is married to a Guatemalan native that she said has been “going through the immigration procedures since 2008.”
“I know what the law states, and even though he’s on his path to citizenship and hasn’t committed a crime, I am worried that ICE will take him away. A lot of people were scared that have immigrant families,” she said.
Young said she and her husband have already paid more than $20,000 in legal fees for the citizenship process.
“I think it is important that immigrants understand that they have rights,” she said. “And they have to work to provide for their families and they should obey the law and not commit any crimes.”
This article contains additional reporting by The Washington Post.