Nineteen people in South Carolina were among hundreds arrested in coordinated immigration raids across the country last week.
Federal immigration officials said 75 percent of those arrested during the raids were “criminal aliens” previously convicted of crimes in the United States. The rest simply may have been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Those arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement were targeted because of prior convictions – ranging from homicide, sex crimes and drug trafficking to battery, drunken driving and weapons charges – as well as people with outstanding deportation orders or who had re-entered the country after being removed.
It was not immediately clear what the 19 people arrested in South Carolina were charged with. The Island Packet said 11 individuals in Beaufort County alone were detained by ICE. Some appeared to have outstanding immigration orders, according to local immigration attorneys.
“ICE conducts these kind of targeted enforcement operations regularly and has for many years,” John Kelly, the U.S. secretary of Homeland Security, said in a statement. “The focus of these enforcement operations is consistent with the routine, targeted arrests carried out by ICE’s Fugitive Operations teams on a daily basis.”
If someone without a prior criminal record was detained, he or she was not targeted, said ICE Southern Region spokesman Bryan Cox. Instead, the individual would have been identified by agents as undocumented in the course of detaining someone else targeted for deportation.
Those individuals still would be entitled to appear in immigration court and make a case for staying in the country before they would be deported, Cox said.
In South Carolina’s immigrant community, fear and rumor have many believing ICE is rounding up people in schools and churches, or going door to door to find undocumented immigrants – something ICE says it doesn’t have the manpower to do.
“If they go to an address, it’s because they have a warrant,” said Tammy Besherse, immigration policy director with the S.C. Appleseed Legal Justice Center.
That fear is caused by the shift in deportation priorities between the Obama and Trump administrations, immigration advocates say.
“The Obama administration said, ‘It’s not realistic that we’re going to get everyone, so let’s go after gang bangers,’ ” Besherse said. “With Trump, it seems like it changes daily ... even if you had a minor conviction years ago, Trump has indicated that, ‘In my administration, I’d rather you get called in.’ ”
Marcia Zug teaches family and immigration law at the University of South Carolina. She’s heard of people who have stopped going into work, worried they could be targeted for deportation for as little as using a fake Social Security number.
“Under Obama, there were a lot of deportations, and the priority was criminals. If that’s all this is, it’s not news,” Zug said. “But 25 percent have no criminal record at all, and if you look at the criminal records, I’m sure they are not all violent crimes.”
Besherse is advising clients to consult with an immigration attorney even if they aren’t currently facing deportation – and to plan for what happens if they do eventually.
Zug in particular warns people to make plans for their children.
“If the parents are taken into custody, and the children are placed into the foster care system, it can be difficult to get those kids back,” she said. “It’s important to have someone to take custody of the kids.”