Over the past week, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested 680 undocumented immigrants, 75 percent of which have been convicted of crimes. Immigration advocacy groups have expressed their fear that the detention of undocumented immigrants solely for their residency issues is on the rise. But the breakdown of an alleged crackdown on targeting undocumented immigrants differs by region in the U.S.
Citing a recent Reuters article, of 41 people arrested in New York City and surrounding areas, 93 percent had criminal convictions, while 45 percent of the 51 people arrested in the San Antonio, Texas area did. Among the 190 people arrested in Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina, 17 people had no criminal convictions or a prior order to leave the country. In Southern California, of 161 undocumented immigrants arrested, 151 had criminal convictions.
These recent raids have led to major concern bordering on hysteria, though seemingly justified after the president threatened to deport two million to three million migrants with criminal records as well as the ongoing berating of foreigners during election season. Taking a step back from the impending doom of deportation and the possible development of internment camps to detain deportees, let’s take a look at what’s going on here in our backyard in Ventura County.
First, state Sen. Tony Mendoza, D-Los Angeles, and the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles said that ICE raids were happening in Oxnard and Santa Paula. Oxnard was factual, but it seems Santa Paula was simply an assumption, an assumption that was in fact wrong. ICE reported that six people were arrested in three cities: Camarillo (1), Oxnard (3) and Ventura (2).
Second, ICE raids are not rare. They are actually routine. But still, with the rather irrational executive order banning immigrants from seven countries, the fact that ICE is doing anything right now puts everyone on high alert, especially when the status quo seems to have changed. As for ICE raids in Ventura County, however, last year, 16 undocumented immigrants with prior convictions were arrested while, in 2008, 22 with outstanding deportation orders were arrested. If there was outrage over these arrests, it wasn’t overt.
Third, in Ventura County, the status quo under Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean has been to inform ICE of foreign born arrested for criminal charges at the jail. Then, ICE will proceed with an investigation if the person in custody should be processed for deportation. In fiscal year 2016 (Oct. 1, 2015, to Sept. 30, 2016), ICE placed a total of 358 immigrations holds/detainers in Ventura County. Of those, 238 were taken into custody by ICE. Those charges include DUI (89), drugs (48), domestic violence (21), robbery or theft (17) and/or carrying concealed weapon or firearms (11). According to a 2013 Public Policy Institute of California report, Ventura County is home to an estimated 69,000 undocumented immigrants. Those taken into custody by ICE in fiscal year 2015/2016 constituted approximately .3 percent of the total undocumented immigrant population and made up less than 1 percent of the total 27,177 bookings into the jail that year.
Further, Dean said he is unaware of any local cases where law enforcement has been accused of racial profiling that would target undocumented immigrants. He also said that, to his knowledge, ICE only pursues deportation cases after those who have been arrested have been adjudicated of their charges and that the Sheriff’s Department can’t hold anyone after being cleared of charges, regardless of ICE detainers due to the Trust Act, which was enacted in 2014.
Fourth, there has been a resurgence of old news stories sold as new stories, particularly a five-year-old story that resurfaced this week about Alabama farmworkers in hiding to avoid ICE raids, that is seemingly causing a bit of a panic among locals that this will be the current state of affairs in Ventura County. While old stories serve as a testament of current concerns, they do not accurately represent the present moment and we all need to be weary of fearmongering.
With the American Civil Liberties Union overflowing with cash donations and new members, plus top cops in Ventura County saying that they will not be doing immigration enforcement, it’s time to focus on the reality of the situation and being prepared for it rather than living in a state of fear and “terror,” especially when it comes to what’s happening right here in our own backyard. We cannot forget that there is middle ground between complacency and alarmist.
For legal help or questions about undocumented residency issues, go to www.aclusocal.org.