ICE says L.A. immigration arrests were planned long in advance, not tied to new crackdown

Immigration officials said Friday that they arrested more than 160 people — most of them with criminal histories — during an operation this week across Southern California.

The arrests, which officials have described as routine and not part of a crackdown promised by President Trump, have sparked fear and anger in immigrant communities.

David Marin, the director of Enforcement and Removal Operations for Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Los Angeles, said the actions taken this week were planned before Trump took office and were comparable to a similar weeklong operation taken last summer that resulted in 112 arrests.

Marin said roughly 75% of the people arrested this week had prior felony convictions for crimes that included “sex offenses, assault, robbery and weapons violations.” Most of the 161 people arrested this week had been targeted for removal based on past criminal convictions, but Marin admitted a few people were swept up because they were found to be undocumented while other arrests were being carried out.

“Those were individuals that are in the country illegally, so they had no documentation or any right to be here in the country,” he said.

“The rash of these recent reports about ICE checkpoints and random sweeps and the like, it’s all false, and that’s definitely dangerous and irresponsible,” Marin said. “Reports like that create panic, and they put communities and law enforcement personnel in unnecessary danger.”

ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice said it was not immediately clear how many of those arrested in California this week had been deported. Marin also sharply criticized activist groups that characterized the operation as an indiscriminate series of raids, claiming such allegations put law enforcement officers and residents at risk.

The Los Angeles-area operation was carried out in conjunction with similar actions in New York City, Atlanta and Chicago, according to Kice, who said it was not uncharacteristic for ICE operations to coincide in major cities. Kice could not immediately provide arrest statistics for the operations in other cities.

The arrests sparked a protest in downtown Los Angeles on Thursday evening.

The situation highlighted fear among many immigrants about Trump’s vow to deport those in the United States 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. 

Speaking to a packed room inside the Coalition for Humane Immigration Rights’ Los Angeles offices, Executive Director Angelica Salas characterized the enforcement actions as “raids” or “sweeps” that are indicative of the Trump administration’s hard-line stance on illegal immigration.

Salas said the organization received an unusual volume of calls, starting at 11 a.m. on Thursday, from immigration attorneys and relatives of those who had been detained.

“This is what sweeps, or coordinated actions, look like,” she said.

A young woman whose father, Manuel Mosqueda Lopez, was nearly deported Thursday to Mexico shook with rage as she spoke about the fears the Trump administration has stoked among immigrant communities throughout the state. The woman, Marlene Mosqueda, claimed immigration officials were searching for someone else when they arrested her father, who does not have a criminal record.

“With Donald Trump being president, I see no hope for us,” she said before sobbing and walking away.

ICE officials say the recent arrests were similar in scope to other operations the agency has conducted in the area in past years.

Last year, federal agents took 112 people into custody during a four-day operation targeting immigrants with criminal histories in Southern California, including one previously convicted of the attempted murder of a police officer, ICE said at the time. In 2015, ICE announced the arrests of more than 240 people with criminal records over the course of another four-day operation in the Southland. 

Jennie Pasquarella, director of immigrant rights for the ACLU in California, said the actions taken by ICE in California this week are not necessarily indicative of the hard-line enforcement that Trump promised on the campaign trail, though she did express concerns about reports that some immigrants without criminal histories were caught up in the weeklong operation.

“Even under Obama we had sweeps or big operations where they would go into a particular neighborhood or say that this week we’re going to do a big operation and arrest people with certain profiles in certain parts of the city,” Pasquarella said. “The piece of it that is new is some of the reports that we were getting yesterday indicating that there were people [arrested] who did not have any criminal convictions at all.”

james.queally@latimes.com

Twitter: @JamesQueallyLAT

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UPDATES:

4:50 p.m.: This article was updated with new information from ICE.

3:35 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from the ACLU.

2:25 p.m.: This article was updated with information about previous ICE operations in Southern California.

This article was originally published at 1:40 p.m.

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