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Opinion: On ICE Deportation Surges, Separating Facts from Speculation

Opinion: On the recent immigration enforcement surge we need to step back and separate known facts from speculation as we remain vigilant.
Image: ICE officers detain a suspect as they conduct a targeted enforcement operation in Los Angeles
Officers detain suspect as part of enforcement operation in Los Angeles, Feb. 7, 2017.Courtesy Charles Reed / U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement via REUTERS

Let me be clear, I am no fan of President Trump’s immigration rhetoric and recent immigration executive orders. But in looking at the recent immigration enforcementsurge we need to take three deep breaths and separate known facts from speculation as we remain vigilant.

First, the facts. During the week of February 9, 2017 there was an Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) surge. Preliminary information from ICE indicates that this was a targeted enforcement sweep of immigrants defined as criminals.

Coordinated ICE sweeps targeting undocumented criminals are nothing new. Such surges took place routinely during the Obama administration.

For the sake of comparison let’s zoom in on the Los Angeles sector – one of the most immigrant populous regions of the country. Less than a year ago, in mid July of 2016, 112 foreign nationals were apprehended in an ICE sweep targeting at-large criminals. About half of these individuals had felony convictions and the remaining had misdemeanors. Last week in the same Los Angeles sector, 160 foreign nationals were apprehended; of which 150 had criminal histories and five had final orders of removal.

RELATED: ICE Arrests Stir Fear in Immigrants Wary of Trump Orders

A quick comparison of the Los Angeles Sector ICE surge from July 2016 and February 2017 doesn’t show a big difference. This most recent ICE surge looks like those in the past couple of years that have prioritized the removal of criminal foreign nationals. In the following weeks and months we will be better able to compare past and current apprehension rates but as it stands now the surge was a routine ICE operation.

The fact is that thus far we cannot say that the Trump administration is substantively doing anything differently than the Obama administration. Stylistically, though, Obama and Trump are worlds apart. President Obama did not publicize ICE surges, instead letting ICE carry out policy, whereas President Trump is highlighting the surge on twitter as his fulfillment of campaign promises.

More significantly, as with most things, the devil is in the details. An important fact is that under President Trump’s executive order enhancing public safety in the interior of the U.S., the criminal status of an immigrant is not clear.

Under the Obama administration there was a prioritization of criminals with more violent offenders being top priorities. Under the Trump administration there does not seem to be a clear prioritization. This means that immigrants with a deportation order and no other criminal record could technically be classified as criminal.

One crucial thing to look at is whether the Trump administration will expand the definition of a "criminal" offense to include an immigrant with a traffic violation.

It is too early to know whether the Trump administration’s expanded definition of criminal ends up targeting non-violent offenders and those who may just have a traffic violation.

Relatedly this expanded definition could quickly inflate the numbers of ICE deportations.

This may very well happen, but that is speculation based on his rhetoric rather than factual confirmation.

For better or worse, only time will tell if this speculation is correct.

RELATED: Arizona Woman Deported, Possibly the First Under Trump Immigration Orders

The point about not giving speculation too long a leash is that the most undeniable fact is that emotions and fear in the immigrant community are running high. This issue of deportation is one that tears apart families and that represents cultural, economic, and social uprooting.

Because of the delicate nature of this issue, we need to proceed with caution and not let speculation get the best of us.

Immigrants and immigrant advocates need to prepare for the worst, hope for the best, and in the meantime not let a paralyzing panic set in.

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