Immigration arrests in L.A. spark fear, outrage, but officials say they are routine

Arrests made by federal immigration officials in Southern California this week have heightened anxiety about a promised crackdown by President Trump on people in this country illegally.

The arrests sparked a protest in downtown Los Angeles on Thursday evening, with immigration advocates claiming that about 100 people had been taken into custody. But immigration officials disputed those numbers and said the arrests were part of routine activities, not tied to any new crackdown.

The situation highlighted fear among many immigrants about Trump’s vow to deport those here illegally. Los Angeles and Orange counties are home to 1 million immigrants living without proper papers, according to an analysis released Thursday by the Pew Research Center. 

Some politicians said they were demanding answers from federal authorities about the arrests. Meanwhile, local police were fighting concerns that they were somehow involved in new immigration actions. Many law enforcement agencies, including the Los Angeles Police Department, have vowed not to take part in the mass deportations Trump and his supporters have promised.

The Pomona Police Department put out an alert Thursday night warning of social media hoaxes claiming the agency was taking part in immigration checkpoints. Similar rumors circulated last week as well. Police officials decried them as “fake news.”

“There is information that is out there that is wrong,” said Los Angeles Deputy Police Chief Bob Green, adding that his department would not participate in any federal immigration sweeps. “We are working hard with the immigrant communities to dispel fears.”

Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said the arrests were not part of a new and more aggressive mission the agency had adopted in light of the president’s stance on deportations. 

In a statement, she said any arrests were part of the agency’s “routine” enforcement activities.

“Our operations are targeted and lead driven, prioritizing individuals who pose a risk to our communities. Examples would include known street gang members, child sex offenders, and deportable foreign nationals with significant drug trafficking convictions,” Kice wrote. “To that end, ICE’s routine immigration enforcement actions are ongoing and we make arrests every day.”

Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, said 100 people were detained, 60 of them Mexican nationals. 

Salas said when she and other CHIRLA members arrived at a downtown L.A. detention center Thursday afternoon, they saw five white vans and one bus filled with people who they believed had been nabbed in the actions. They said they have not been able to get any information about those detained. 

Salas said one man was at home when there was a knock on his door. When the man opened the door, he was met by an ICE agent who asked him to provide identification. When he couldn’t do so, he was detained, she said. Another man was detained at his work at a Target store in the San Fernando Valley, she said.

“They say it’s routine, but we don’t believe it was a routine operation,” Salas said. 

An ICE official who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and requested anonymity said the claims that ICE officers made 100 arrests Thursday were “grossly exaggerated.”

Green said Thursday that the department knew of no ICE raids going on in the San Fernando Valley.

The only ICE activity, he said, is the normal execution of deportation orders that is nothing out of the ordinary. 

California Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) said in a statement that he’s asked “federal officials to disclose how many children, men, and women they have detained; what the processing time will be; what the rationale is for their detention; and I asked that everyone be offered access to an attorney.”

Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Los Angeles) also said he was demanding answers from immigration officials.

At the federal detention center off Aliso Street downtown on Thursday night, dozens of people walked in a circle, holding signs that read: “Stop separating families” and “ICE out of L.A.”

At one point, a federal judge tried to drive down Aliso Street to get onto the 101 Freeway, but demonstrators had blocked the street. The judge was eventually able to get to the freeway.

Assemblyman Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles) attended the protest. He said the issue is a personal one for him. Santiago’s father was undocumented when he immigrated to the United States from Mexico as a teen.

“He came here to create a better life for my brother and I once we were born,” he said. “He was a hardworking guy. These people are no different. This is absolutely the point that we need to stand up for immigrant rights.” 

Times staff writers Hannah Fry and Matt Hamilton contributed to this report.

joel.rubin@latimes.com

ruben.vives@latimes.com

richard.winton@latimes.com

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UPDATES:

7:49 a.m. Feb. 10: This article was updated with comment from Tony Cárdenas.

8:10 p.m.: This article was updated with additional editing.

7:35 p.m.: This article was updated with additional details on the protest and with more context. 

This article was originally published at 6:25 p.m. Feb. 9

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