“Panic” and “terror” is said to be running through immigrant communities in the US following raids carried out across at least six states as part of Donald Trump’s pledge to crack down on illegal immigrants.
Authorities arrested hundreds of undocumented migrants in the first large-scale enforcement of Mr Trump’s executive order to take action against the estimated 11 million people living illegally in the US.
Raids took place this week in and around New York, Los Angeles, North Carolina, South Carolina, Atlanta and Chicago, immigration officials confirmed – with more than a third of those detained in the Los Angeles area being deported to Mexico.
Officials said the raids targeted known criminals but reports from immigrant rights groups claim that law-abiding citizens were also targeted in a departure from Obama-era crackdowns which focused solely on law-breaking illegal “aliens”.
Mr Trump has pledged to deport as many as three million illegal immigrants, substantially broadening the remit of the Department of Homeland Security to include those with minor convictions as well as those known to have committed serious crimes.
Gillian Christensen, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), said the raids were part of “routine” immigration enforcement actions.
Ms Christensen said officers found undocumented migrants from a dozen Latin American countries and some of those detained had convictions for murder and domestic violence.
“We’re talking about people who are threats to public safety or a threat to the integrity of the immigration system.”
But immigration activists claimed the raids extended to Florida, Kansas, Texas and Virginia and that otherwise law-abiding undocumented immigrants were also targeted.
“This is clearly the first wave of attacks under the Trump administration, and we know this isn’t going to be the only one,” said Cristina Jimenez, executive director of United We Dream, an immigrant youth organisation.
Spanish language radio stations in Los Angeles have been running public service announcements regarding the “Know Your Rights” seminars the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles have scheduled.
Immigrant rights groups have protests planned in response to the raids in New York and Los Angeles – both cities with large numbers of illegal immigrants.
President Obama offered an amnesty to illegal immigrants who were primary carers of children, regardless of the immigration status of the minors.
Despite his amnesty, the Obama administration deported around 2.4 million illegal immigrants – more than any other Presidency in US history.
Around 1.4 million people signed up for Obama’s amnesty – but Mr Trump is determined to overturn this, pledging a “zero tolerance” policy on illegal aliens during his election campaign.
“Anyone who has entered the United States illegally is subject to deportation – that is what it means to have laws and to have a country,” Mr Trump said in Phoenix, Arizona, last August.
One million of those who signed up for the temporary amnesty are from Mexico, and over half live in Texas or California.
Having signed up to the Obama amnesty, many illegal immigrants who had been left alone by the authorities for years – perhaps decades – have now effectively handed over their last known address details to the Trump administration, fuelling a climate of anxiety.
“We cannot understate the level of panic and terror that is running through many immigrant communities,” said Walter Barrientos of Make the Road New York in New York City.
Susannah Volpe, a lawyer for an immigrant legal services group in Washington DC, told the New York Times there was a definite change in tactics with the latest raids.
“These are agents going into apartment buildings or agents going to work sites,” said Ms. Volpe, who had a client arrested, along with five others, at a construction site in Washington last week. “This is new.”
New York and Los Angeles have long been regarded as sanctuaries for immigrants where police and other law enforcement agents do not automatically co-operate with immigration officials.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said he called ICE’s regional deputy director to demand greater transparency about on-going operations and the status of those arrested.
“Angelenos should not have to fear raids that are disruptive to their peace of mind and bring unnecessary anxiety to our homes, schools, and workplaces,” Mr Garcetti said.
“The Administration should take a just, humane, and sensible approach that does not cause pain for people who only want to live their lives and raise their families in the communities they call home.”
David Martin, ICE’s field director in the Los Angeles area, denied the raids were as a direct result of Mr Trump’s instructions.
“These operations take weeks and sometimes months of planning, so this operation was in the planning stages before the current administration came out with the executive orders.”
He said 75 per cent of the approximately 160 people detained in the LA operation had serious convictions – meaning the other 25 per cent had minor convictions or were undocumented.
Officials said 37 of those detained in Los Angeles have now been deported to Mexico.
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