U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested 83 illegal immigrants in New Orleans and Memphis, most of whom had no criminal record.
Of the 83 individuals taken into custody, 64 were categorized by ICE as ‘noncriminal.’
While the agency has maintained its priority is to seek out and deport illegal immigrants who commit crimes within the United States, the majority of arrests in New Orleans and Memphis were simply of people who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Commercial Appeal cites agency statistics and reporting as saying the migrants were found while federal officers carried out searches for a mere handful of suspects.
A February 20th memo circulated by current White House Chief of Staff and then-Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly maintained that ICE’s priority should be illegal immigrants suspected or previously convicted of crimes.
However, Kelly did authorize the agency to arrest any undocumented persons they encounter in the course of duty.
“Department personnel have full authority to arrest or apprehend an alien whom an immigration officer has probably cause to believe is in violation of the immigration laws,” wrote Kelly in the memo.
The 83 arrestees were primarily picked up from New Orleans and Memphis, although ICE had been conducting operations throughout the American South for several days.
Advocacy organization Latino Memphis purportedly criticized the agency for apparently picking up a large number of undocumented migrants who were living largely peaceful lives.
The organization’s president, Mauricio Calvo, said he didn’t think aliens who are only guilty of violating civil immigration law should be arrested or imprisoned – according to him, many who run afoul of the IRS for tax evasion are often hit with financial penalties.
“So I don’t understand why there is so much – this obsession to have this harsh punishment against each violation,” said Calvo. “It is a violation, yes, so give people a fine.”
ICE spokesman Tom Byrd said the operation, which was criticized by Latino Memphis and Calvo, targeted children who’d arrived to the United States as unaccompanied minors.
Byrd said the agency’s intent was to discourage families from sending youths into the United States illegally “because of the inherent dangers which are involved with them trying to come across the border, especially children.”
While net migration to the United States from Mexico has ground to a halt in recent years, gang violence in Central America has spurred a significant uptick in undocumented arrivals from countries like El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.