Editor’s note: In this multipart series, KTAR News’ Martha Maurer will take an in-depth look at the multifaceted and complex issue of undocumented immigrants in America under the administration of President Donald Trump.
Part two explores ICE’s targeted enforcement actions — often considered raids — immigrants who take refuge in places of worship and the role of ICE in actively looking for people who overstay their visas.
ICE raids in Arizona
“They’re happening every day,” Enrique Lucero, field office director for ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations in Phoenix, said of his agency’s operations.
ICE agents do not call the operations raids. Instead, they are termed as targeted enforcement actions.
Lucero said, despite any misconceptions, the operations are not blind sweeps for undocumented immigrants. They target a specific person or people.
“We’re looking for certain individuals who we already know are in the United States illegally, have likely been convicted of a crime and we have deemed them to be a public safety threat,” he said.
Alessandra Soler, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, said while ICE is not conducting raids akin to those carried out by former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, her agency still had qualms about immigration officers outside courthouses and jails.
“It ends up raising due process concerns,” she said.
One such worry is that agents could end up stopping, detaining and questioning people who are here legally — even by mistake.
Lucero said his enforcement teams are likely more preoccupied with national security threats or convicted criminals than someone standing outside of a government building.
“Every day in Arizona, I have fugitive operations teams that are looking for criminal aliens,” he said.
A concerned community
One Arizona immigrants’ rights group said it had received many calls from people concerned by ICE’s targeted enforcement actions.
Tony Navarrette, the deputy director of Promise Arizona who is also a state lawmaker, said he has spoken with families who were found to be in the country illegally during one of ICE’s targeted operations.
“We tell all families, especially undocumented immigrant families, ‘If there’s an ICE agent, do not open the door,'” he said, adding that his group and others have launched education campaigns directed at illegal immigrants.
Navarrette said he is uncertain if a recent uptick in calls received by his organization and others was rooted in recent immigrant actions executed by the Trump administration, headline-making arrests or publicized deportation figures.
The ACLU recommended immigrants be prepared and know their rights before they come in contact with the ICE agents.
Lucero said target enforcement actions could take place anywhere. However, there are sensitive locations — health care facilities, schools, funerals, weddings, parades and churches — ICE officers would attempt to avoid unless specifically ordered to go in.
“ICE does not target people (in such places) without exigent circumstances or approval from Washington, D.C.,” he said.
In order to make an arrest in a place of worship, Locero said at least one of three factors would have to be met: the person was to be deemed a public safety threat, ICE agents were led to that location through other law enforcement action or the agency was granted permission from a “designated supervisory official.”
If a group of immigrants were to take shelter in a religious facility, ICE agents would have to weigh several factors, including public safety, when determining if they would enter and make an arrest.
Several Arizona churches — such as Shadow Rock United Church of Christ in Phoenix that was housing two immigrants as of Wednesday — have opened their doors to immigrants hoping to avoid deportation. They are joined by thousands of others nationwide in offering refuge.
“The churches have done a great job of stepping up and providing a place of refuge,” Navarrete said, adding that he hears from plenty of religious leaders willing to extend a helping hand to those at risk of deportation.
Shadow Rock offered refuge to Marco Tulio Coss, who was deported earlier this year from Mesa.
However, Soler said the ACLU is concerned changing laws under Trump could lead to ICE officers making arrests in churches.
“We don’t want to create unnecessary fear,” she said, but noted the Trump administration has made it clear it would remove any undocumented immigrants.
Lucero said ICE has made an arrest inside of an Arizona church after the immigrant called to surrender. He said the agency could do it again, but only under extenuating circumstances.
“It’s a possibility,” he said. “It’s just highly unlikely.”
It was estimated that 40 percent of the roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States entered the country legally and then overstayed their visas.
The primary reason for visa overstays is the lack of a system to track people exiting the United States. U.S. Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) has called the overstay issue a matter of national security.
Lucero said his agency typically finds people who overstayed their visas when conducting operations inside local jails.
“It’s part of immigration enforcement,” he said, adding that, once an undocumented immigrant is found, they are placed in the system for removal.
Lucero said most ICE contact with visa overstays happens during intake at the Fourth Avenue Jail in downtown Phoenix. Agents screen every individual booked by local law enforcement.
“When they are booked out, if there … is ICE interest, ICE assumes custody of those individuals,” he said.
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