Immigration Customs Enforcement agents have detained approximately 200 people accused of being in the United States unlawfully in a series of arrests over the last week across South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia.
Some of those arrest were made in Beaufort County, according to local advocates for immigrants.
Bryan Cox, a spokesman for ICE’s southern region, provided no specifics about local arrests Friday.
Asked if any arrests had been made in Beaufort County in the last two weeks, Cox said in an email: “The situation you are referencing probably was us, but that’s nothing new. ICE fugitive operations teams are out every day as part of routine, targeted enforcement operations.”
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Cox did say that roughly a third of the total number of arrests made in the last week happened in South Carolina. He said his office is preparing an announcement detailing any charges and the number of local arrests to be released on Monday. He added that a majority of those arrested in the three states have prior criminal convictions.
Cox was contacted by The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette in response to Facebook posts made by concerned residents about what some of them called “raids” being conducted within the county — in Bluffton and on Hilton Head and St. Helena islands.
Aimee Deverall, an immigration lawyer in Bluffton, said her office has received reports of ICE officers arresting individuals in all of those locations.
Deverall said local attorneys are scrambling to “put the pieces together” to find out who ICE officers are targeting in the area and how many people have been detained so far.
“From what we can tell, a lot of these (detained) people had old deportation orders, and that’s why they were already in the system,” Deverall said.
“One of my clients who came in Thursday is a young man who got a DUI in May 2016,” she said. “He said that ICE officers were looking for him at his home, his mother’s home and at his workplace. They were even staked out in a van outside his apartment. He was very scared.”
Capt. Bob Bromage of the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office said Friday that the department is deferring to ICE on the matter and declined to answer questions about activity in the county.
The Department of Homeland Security detained 26 suspected undocumented immigrants throughout the metro-Savannah area without incident, according to a WTOC news report. Chatham County Sheriff John Wilcher told the television station that all of those detained had prior criminal arrests or convictions. All 26 were taken to the federal holding facility in Ocilla, Ga.
Cox said ICE targets only specific individuals. However, anyone who is in the company of those targeted individuals and who “meet the priorities” of law violations also could be taken into custody.
“Every day, as part of routine targeted enforcement operations, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement fugitive operations teams arrest criminal aliens and other individuals who are in violation of our nation’s immigration laws,” Cox wrote in the email. “ICE conducts targeted immigration enforcement in compliance with federal law and agency policy. ICE does not conduct sweeps or raids that target aliens indiscriminately.”
George Kanuck, co-chairman of Lowcountry Immigration Coalition, said arrests by ICE are nothing new in Beaufort County. He said a recent executive order by President Donald Trump expanded the powers of immigration officers and who they can deport. The order also expanded the language about who is considered a criminal.
Deverall, the lawyer, agreed.
“Any person who an immigration officer considers to be posing a threat can be picked up legally by this executive order,” she said. “If they are doing these raids targeting criminals and they come across other undocumented people in the process, they have the right to detain them, too.”
Deverall said that Trump’s immigration reform efforts has sparked a paralyzing fear in the Lowcountry’s Latino community.
“I have clients coming in with questions I’ve never heard before,” she said. “Clients who are here legally but afraid to leave the U.S. to go home in fear they won’t get back in. Clients who have lived and worked here for 20 years and are in grave concern for their children. They’ll say things like ‘I’m OK with going home, but I’m afraid for my kids.’ They aren’t used to that life. It’s just heartbreaking.”
Deverall wants those same people to be aware of their rights.
“These people are entitled to a deportation hearing. Many of them don’t know how to do that.”
“I’m afraid the fear is so deep right now that (immigrants) are going to be afraid to talk to me for legal advice,” she said.
“And I’m scared this is only just the beginning.”