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LI, NYC-area deportation arrests sharply up

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers are

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers are pictured in an undated photo. Credit: ICE

The region encompassing Long Island and New York City has seen a 31 percent increase this year in arrests of immigrants sought for deportation, matching a national trend for the first hundred days of Donald Trump’s presidency, according to figures from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The levels of ICE arrests had fallen in the past two years, as then-President Barack Obama put in place enforcement priorities to mostly target serious criminals, repeat immigration-law violators and security threats, a move that reversed a decade-long trend of blanket enforcement.

An ICE official in New York said the recent rise in arrests is consistent with Trump’s emphasis on immigration enforcement whenever the agency encounters people “in the country unlawfully.”

The new figures show that 687 immigrants were arrested from Jan. 20 to April 29 by the federal law enforcement agency’s New York Field Office, charged with removing deportable immigrants on Long Island and New York City, as well as the upstate counties of Dutchess, Putnam, Sullivan, Orange, Rockland, Ulster and Westchester. For the same period last year, the number was 523.

Noncriminal cases rise

Most of those arrested immigrants, or 77 percent, had criminal convictions, but the figures also show that noncriminal cases, involving people found to have crossed the border illegally or who overstayed their visas, rose by 103 percent in the same period. The arrests’ spike mirrors increases at the national level, with a 35 percent rise in yearly arrests yielding in that period 41,898 immigrants sought for deportation.

New York’s office accounted for 2 percent of the national arrests by ICE, and the agency did not offer a breakdown of how many arrests took place on Long Island. Not all immigration arrests lead to removals, as immigrants appeal their cases.

While ICE acting director Thomas Homan said in a statement that the numbers “reflect President Trump’s commitment to enforce our immigration laws fairly and across the board,” immigrant advocates have complained about indiscriminate deportations breaking up families.

Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), a supporter of enforcement measures who also represents a district with a significant immigrant population, said he supports the Trump policy.

“The overwhelming majority . . . of those who have been deported have criminal records,” King said.

Criminal associations

The numbers also mask, he said, that “a number of the others, even if they don’t have criminal records, have criminal associations” and are identified while agents are seeking those with convictions. “The primary goal has to be to deport criminal illegal immigrants and those who are associated with criminals.”

The step up in arrests by federal agents is encouraging to proponents of strict immigration enforcement, said Barrett Psareas, vice president of the Nassau County Civic Association, a Cedarhurst group that supports a strict deportation policy.

“We believe they are doing what they are supposed to do,” Psareas said. “If you are illegally in the country and you have no documentation you are in violation of U.S. law.”

Psareas said he is “actually surprised it’s not more” for the number of people deported.

While the immigration arrests nationally in Trump’s first 100 days in office surpass the same period for the past two years, they are 23 percent lower than the 54,584 who had been deported for the same period in 2014, as Obama’s administration was coming off a peak for removals. Department of Homeland Security statistics show that more than 434,000 immigrants were removed from the country under Obama in all of 2013 — the highest yearly number tallied in more than a century of deportations.

Removals of immigrants rose steadily to record numbers through the first five years of Obama’s administration, as ICE continued enforcement operations and cooperation with local law enforcement put in place toward the end of George W. Bush’s presidency.

Deportations spur protests

Those programs were later modified, exempting large categories, such as young immigrants known as “Dreamers” and holders of temporary protected status, while allowing the use of prosecutorial discretion so the agency would focus on criminals. As a result, deportations had been trending steeply downward.

Immigrant advocacy groups on Long Island rallied weeks ago in May Day marches in both Nassau and Suffolk to protest the most recent wave of deportations, which they said sow fear in immigrant communities and often hurt families — not the criminals that the administration says it is targeting.

ICE did not classify and quantify what crimes the arrested immigrants had committed, but an agency official said they could range “from rape and murder down to DWI.”

The agency and the administration have been criticized by activists for entangling local law enforcement with immigration enforcement, particularly as Trump and other officials have declared war on MS-13, the violent gang thought to be responsible for a series of brutal killings on Long Island. Most immigrants here illegally don’t have ties to gangs, advocates say.

Deportations may be increasing, “but they are going up, essentially, for people who are hardworking immigrants, rather than people who are gang members or criminals,” said Patrick Young, program director of the Central American Refugee Center, a nonprofit in Hempstead and Brentwood.

“The promise that this will enhance security for people is not being borne out,” Young added. “This is really picking up low-hanging fruit, people who posed no danger for their communities, and leaving children to be supported by social services.”

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