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Talking ICE: The uneasy relationship between Arizona officials, immigrants

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 one explores the uncertain relationship between those immigrants and immigration officials after Trump’s executive order that made all undocumented people a deportation priority.

Read part one, part two and part three.

Trump changes the status quo

Following Trump’s executive actions on immigration shortly after his January inauguration, several cases of Arizona immigrants who were deported during an ICE check-in garnered national attention.

The February deportation of Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos was the first of three to grab America’s attention. Her case was followed weeks later by that of Juan Carlos Fomperosa Garcia, who was ordered out of the country. In May, Marco Tulio Coss was removed from the United States.

All three immigrants were undocumented and all had orders of removal issued by an immigration judge. But their removal during a scheduled meeting with ICE is what caught the eyes and ears of Americans because, in the past, those with no criminal record or those who committed minor crimes were typically allowed to stay in the country.

“If you’re checking in, that means you’ve already been identified by ICE, that you are in the country without authorization,” Enrique Lucero, field office director for ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations in Phoenix, explained.

Lucero said most people who are ordered to check in with his agency have run out of legal options to stay in the country.

“There has to be some closure into a case,” he said.

Some of those who have orders to leave may have not committed a crime in the U.S., but Lucero said being in the country is a crime in itself.

“Anyone that ICE is removing, people should know they’ve committed a criminal act,” he said.

Both Garcia de Rayos and Fomperosa Garcia had a criminal record.

Tulio Coss did not have criminal past, but was pulled over for speeding in 2009 when officials discovered he was in the country illegally. He exhausted his appeals in 2013 and an order of removal was issued.

Instead of being removed, he was ordered to check in regularly with ICE. That held until this past May, when he was deported.

“There is no class that is exempt … from being removed,” Lucero said.

What changed?

In years past, Valley immigration attorney Margarita Silva felt confident she could tell her clients — especially those without criminal record — they would likely be safe from deportation for a few more months after they met with ICE.

“I’m not confident saying that now,” she said.

Since Trump’s order, Silva has told her clients they need to be prepared in case their next check-in ends with a permanent trip outside of the United States.

“This can happen at any time,” she said. “If you get detained today, who’s going to have power of attorney over your kids? We’re just trying to warn people ahead of time.”

Lucero said undocumented immigrants should not be surprised if they are removed from the country — criminal record or not.

Silva, on the other hand, believed ICE officers still have an option to not execute a removal order. Those officers cannot change the order, but they could opt to delay it.

“I think what we’re seeing is they are not exercising that discretion anymore,“ Silva said.

More headlines, fewer deportations

Data from Lucero’s office showed that, between Jan. 20 and April 29, ICE removed 5,308 undocumented immigrants.

More than 3,200 were convicted criminals.

In 2009, nearly 22,000 undocumented immigrants were deported in the same time frame. That figure began to decline in the following years.

In 2013, the number had dropped by nearly half to about 11,000.

In 2014, the number fell again to 7,000.

Last year, about 6,000 immigrants were removed from the country between Jan. 20 and April 29.

However, ICE has reported a nearly 15 percent increase in Phoenix-area arrests when compared to this time last year.

Why not skip the check-in?

Immigrants who miss their ICE appointments are considered fugitives and their cases are sent to a specialized team. Depending on the circumstances of the case, agents may prioritize the arrest of certain immigrants over others.

“You’re subject to being targeted by a team that could be knocking on your door, doors of (the homes of) people that we think you may be at, or conducting surveillance, looking for you,” Lucero said.

Lucero said it is in immigrants’ best interests to check in. If they do, they can protect family members and friends who may also be in the country illegally.

Silva has yet to have a client who refuses to check in with ICE.

“These people don’t want to risk their families,” she said.

Read part onepart two and part three.

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