In a plea for the Latino vote, President Obama keeps promising that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will ease up on the deportations.
In a direct contradiction to that promise, ICE officers across the country just conducted a week-long deportation sweep called “Cross Check” —
The third of its kind since Obama took office. In fact, his administration invented “Cross Check.”
The operation netted a whopping 3,100 illegal immigrants from coast to coast. ICE Director John Morton is pitching it as a spring cleaning of the nation's most dangerous criminals:
“The results of this targeted enforcement operation underscore ICE's ongoing commitment and focus on the arrest and removal of convicted criminal aliens and those that game our nation's immigration system. Because of the tireless efforts and teamwork of ICE officers and agents in tracking down criminal aliens and fugitives, there are 3,168 fewer criminal aliens and egregious immigration law violators in our neighborhoods across the country.”
So what qualifies as an “egregious” violator?
Basically, anyone who has ever been caught trying to enter the country before, or otherwise had the misfortune of getting tangled up in our country's arbitrary immigration system.
Of the 206 immigrants arrested in the L.A. area during last week's sweep — L.A. County, Orange County, Riverside County, San Bernardino County, Ventura County and Santa Barbara County — 106 “had prior convictions for serious or violent crimes,” says the ICE press release.
So what qualifies as a “serious” crime?
According to Carl Bergquist, an immigration activist at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, “they're serious in the sense that they could rise up to felony level, [including] illegal re-entry prosecution.
But in Bergquist's experience, few to none of those immigrants are returning to commit crime. Instead, they're “coming back to the country to live with their family and to work.”
The ICE presser does not specify the types of crimes committed by the 106. And on top of that, we're left with 100 immigrants who appear to have done nothing wrong aside from be paperless.
Bergquist says that because Los Angeles is home to so many immigrants, “when they do a sweep here, they're going to nab a bunch of people. They might go to a house and say, 'Hey, there's some other [undocumented] family members. Let's bring them in, too.”
Obama vowed in various speeches last year that immigration courts would prioritize the deportation of dangerous criminals, and throw out a wide variety of softer cases (including students, families and longtime residents).
“If ICE is going to offer prosecutorial discretion, we don't understand why they bother arresting” low-priority immigrants, says Bergquist.
ICE highlights three extreme L.A. County cases in its proud “Cross Check” presser:
Veasna Uy, 34, a Cambodia national immigration fugitive residing in Long Beach, Calif., who was convicted in April 2000 of manslaughter, attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon. Uy remains in ICE custody pending removal from the United States.
A twice deported 53-year-old Mexican national residing in Bell, Calif., who has two prior convictions for possession of narcotics for sale, most recently in 2004. This individual is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office for felony re-entry after deportation. He has been turned over to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service pending those criminal proceedings.
A 42-year-old Salvadoran national residing in North Hollywood, Calif., who was convicted in 1994 of arson and sentenced to 365 days in jail. He is being held by ICE without bond pending a hearing before an immigration judge.
But what about the other 203?
Could they have been anything like Blanca Cardenas, the North Hollyhood mother of two dumped over the border last month after protesting a Bank of America foreclosure? Cardenas was denied judicial process because she had been caught trying to cross the border some 10 years earlier, making her a “serious criminal.” Cardenas' attorney told us that Cardenas may have been subject to a common screw-up on the part of border police:
“A lot of these people are processed and they have no clue whether they're being processed as a deportee or a voluntary return,” says Diamentes. So when Cardenas was booted back over to Mexico all those years ago, she didn't know whether or not she was reentering the U.S. with a criminal hold.
We've contacted ICE for more specifics on those arrested during last week's “Cross Check.”