ICE arrests 46 in San Diego County over monthlong operation

Otay Mesa Detention Center
People arrested by immigration officials from mid-July until mid-August may end up in facilities, including Otay Mesa Detention Center, that have struggled to contain outbreaks of COVID-19.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers arrested 46 people around San Diego County over a month-long operation that took place across the country.

The agency said Tuesday that the nationwide operation, which ran from mid-July until mid-August, targeted people who had been arrested, charged with or convicted of crimes that involve harming other people. According to statistics published by the agency, those crimes included assault, domestic violence and homicide as well as hit and run, robbery and identity theft.

ICE said its officers arrested people in several cities around the county — San Diego, San Marcos, Escondido, Vista, National City, Oceanside, El Cajon and Encinitas.


Some of those people were charged with illegal reentry and transferred to federal criminal custody, ICE said. Some were sent to detention centers to wait for either immigration court cases or deportations, and others have already been deported.

It was not clear whether any of the 46 apprehensions were “collateral arrests,” meaning they were people who happened to be around when ICE officers showed up looking for their targets. ICE did not answer a question about this from the Union-Tribune.

The operation in San Diego was smaller than from years’ past when more than 100 people were arrested over a matter of days.

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The operation’s impact in other areas was larger — more than 300 people were arrested by ICE in the last month in the Los Angeles area, for example.

Immigrant rights advocates are concerned that ICE is conducting enforcement efforts during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

ICE said that its officers used equipment to protect themselves as well as those they apprehended from potential transmission of the novel coronavirus.

But the stress and fear of seeing immigration enforcement in the community compounds the anxiety that people are living through during the pandemic, said Lilian Serrano, chair of the San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium.

“Knowing that ICE has not really changed the way they operate, not even during this pandemic, has created an increase of fear,” Serrano said.


After they’re arrested and detained, immigrants may end up in facilities that have already struggled to contain outbreaks of COVID-19. Otay Mesa Detention Center, the only immigration detention facility in San Diego County, had a large outbreak beginning in April.

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Attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union sued to get medically vulnerable detainees removed before they became infected. One man who had increased risk because of diabetes died in custody after he got COVID-19 at Otay Mesa Detention Center.

“ICE’s continued arrests in our community are further proof that the agency cannot be left to its own devices during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Monika Langarica, an attorney with the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties. “With every newly arrested individual, ICE risks unnecessary spread of the virus, including in its detention centers, which are dangerous congregate environments that imperil the safety of detained persons, staff and the community at large every day. We continue to urge ICE to reduce the number of people subject to detention by releasing more individuals from its jails and by ceasing needless operations in our community.”

The federal government has asked the judge to dismiss the case, arguing that the people who needed to be released from the facility already have been. But the ACLU is pushing for the lawsuit to continue in part because of newly detained people arriving at the facility.

Morrissey writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.