Across the country, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is once again executing large scale enforcement actions against undocumented immigrants, detaining hundreds of people in what they are calling “targeting criminal aliens.” The agency is blaming the coronavirus pandemic on the crackdown, claiming to be focused on people who are committing criminal activity and causing suffering during the pandemic.
“The aliens targeted during this operation preyed on men, women and children in our communities, committing serious crimes and, at times, repeatedly hurting their victims,” Senior Official Performing the Duties of the ICE Director Tony H. Pham said in a press release. “By focusing our efforts on perpetrators of crimes against people, we’re able to remove these threats from our communities and prevent future victimization from occurring. Through our targeted enforcement efforts, we are eliminating the threat posed by these criminals, many of whom are repeat offenders.”
But advocates dispute this action as a veiled way of attacking undocumented communities by calling them "criminal aliens" and fear-mongering. “A closer look at the numbers usually reveals that a bulk of the people detained did not commit violent or serious crimes,” tweeted Tina Vasquez. “ICE only highlights the most egregious cases in these press releases & the agency didn't share the number of collateral arrests included in these numbers.”
"Collateral arrests" are immigrants who are not the original targets of an ICE raid but are arrested during these large-scale enforcement actions; many of these people do not have criminal records. According to the Los Angeles Times, the practice of conducting immigration enforcement raids that sweep up large numbers of undocumented people originated under the George W. Bush administration, and the Trump administration has resumed them.
The current raids may just be an excuse though. According to ICE, the Denver office used the pandemic as an explanation for the raids. “During this effort we focused specifically on those who may have suffered disproportionately during the pandemic,” John Fabbricatore, field office director in Denver said in a press release. “We specifically targeted our enforcement actions at abusers and helped victims by eliminating the threat posed by their perpetrators, and in some cases, preventing future victimization by recidivist offenders.”
But results of ongoing ICE raids have already proven that none of this is related to the pandemic: it only threatens to put individuals and families at higher risk. Rates of infection in immigrant detention centers are high — by July, over 2,700 detained immigrants had tested positive for the virus — and according to reporting from The Intercept and Pro Publica, ICE contributed to the spread of the virus by flying detained immigrants around the country during the pandemic.
Perhaps this framing is intended to drum up public support for the actions by implying they are for the good of vulnerable victims like women and children. Still, it ignores the health risks and the impact of removing a head of household, causing the rest of the family’s ability to support itself to be at risk. Actions like these only contribute to the ongoing pandemic, endangering the people detained, the officers doing the detainment, and the general public, as a report from the Center for Migration Studies found last month.
It doesn't seem that ICE raids will stop, despite ongoing protests and criticism over their impact. The August report from by the Center for Migration Studies insisted that “as the pandemic continues to rage and the numbers of infected detainees and facilities with COVID-19 outbreaks continue to climb, the large-scale release of immigrant detainees remains an urgent priority.”