AUSTIN (KXAN) — Immigration and Customs Enforcement operations in the areas of San Antonio and Austin, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta and New York City netted more than 680 arrests last week, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said Monday.
A total of 51 foreign nationals were arrested in the past week in the Austin area, ICE said, after initially saying 28. Twenty-three of the 51 had previous criminal convictions. The Mexican Consulate said a total of 44 Mexican citizens were arrested in the Austin area on Feb. 9 and 10 — several times the average number — but not all of those arrests are part of the targeted ICE enforcement, called “Operation Cross Check.”
Secretary Kelly says around 75 percent of those arrested had previously been convicted of crimes ranging from homicide and aggravated sexual abuse to assault and driving under the influence.
The secretary laid out the four categories of undocumented immigrants who are the focus of President Trump and the Department of Homeland Security’s focus: those charged with criminal offenses, immigration violations, those who pose a threat to public safety and anyone who has been deported and reentered the United States.
ICE maintains the enforcement operations of the past week are part of routine efforts by the agency, planned before the president’s executive orders on immigration. “ICE does not conduct sweeps, checkpoints or raids that target aliens indiscriminately,” the agency said.
Local contractor says construction workers fear ICE arrests
KXAN spoke with one local contractor Monday who says he’s noticed some construction workers are staying home from work, for fear they’ll be arrested by immigration officials at their construction sites.
“I haven’t seen much movement or noises since workers haven’t shown up to work for fear of immigration showing up,” said Pedro Apolinar, with Apolinar Construction. “It’s something that has had an effect on us contractors and employers. We will not be able to complete projects in time.”
Apolinar said he’s noticed the decrease in work attendance since Thursday.
“Workers have [also] shown up late because they fear that immigration will make its rounds early morning, and they may get picked up first thing in the morning. Automatically, they do not want to go back to Mexico because they live off of their work, they make the sacrifice, so much money they gotta come up with, with the hopes of the American dream and just to be deported, I don’t think it’s right,” said Apolinar.
Construction progress on some homes has come to a halt, he says. “What are we supposed to do as employers? We can’t deliver the job if we don’t have the man power — we can’t finish our projects.”
Apolinar says he believes that if the trend toward fear continues in the industry, it’s going to have a significant negative impact on the local economy.
“The economy is going to go south pretty fast. If we don’t have workers here, the company will not be successful, and I fear that this government is not doing it right,” he said. “We have no clue what we’re going to do, frankly.”
Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R-Austin, says the source of the fear is “misinformation.”
“It’s unfortunate that so many people want to propagate misinformation,” said Sen. Buckingham. “Those folks are probably responding to some of that misinformation. The truth is ICE goes off of leads and doesn’t do random sweeps. If we could keep the propagation of information to actually verifiable facts, then people would realize they don’t have anything to be afraid of.”
Buckingham told KXAN News the motive is safety. “We want the criminals off of our streets. I think that’s exactly what we’re trying to do. We’ve seen a revolving door and so, this is truly about the safety of our community, and we want to make it safer.”
On Friday, KXAN spoke with the Mexican consulate about fears that some undocumented immigrants could be arrested by ICE, regardless of their criminal history or lack thereof, if they are present with another person who is the target of an ICE operation.
“Some of these people detained in ICE facilities had the bad luck for example of being in the same where the person they were looking for was driving or was a passenger, and when immigration authorities detained that person and realized that the two or three colleagues that are with them are also undocumented, they detain them all… regardless of whether they were looking for them or not,” said Consulate General of Mexico Carlos Gonzalez Gutierrez.
Immigration advocates say the actions are harsher than in the past, pointing to the arrests of additional undocumented immigrants during targeted arrests.
Austin City Council Member Greg Casar, in a press conference Friday, said ICE officials justify their actions by holding up examples of a few people “in order to imply all immigrants are like this.”
A Facebook Live video showing an ICE officer handcuffing a man at North Lamar Boulevard and Rundberg Lane on Friday sparked protests involving hundreds of people. One person was arrested for throwing a lit firework into a police car, setting it on fire. Another person was arrested in a protest at Chalmers Avenue at Cesar Chavez Street in east Austin for alleged aggravated assault.
Students at Lanier High School marched Monday afternoon in a show of support for the immigrant community in Austin. Students held signs that said “fight ignorance not immigrants,” and “Muslims are welcome,” along with signs critical of the president and ICE.