A new report reveals U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents arrested nearly three times as many immigrants during raids in Austin last year than previously reported.
ICE agents performed arrest operations around Austin last February. Officials later released a statement explaining the raid was part of a national operation that ended on Feb. 10. That release also stated 51 people were arrested, 27 of whom had no criminal history.
The news magazine The Texas Observer filed a pubic information request shortly after the raids requesting information on the number of arrests. Nearly a year later, they received a copy of an internal document from ICE showing there had been 132 arrests made.
Cristina Parker, the communications coordinator for Grassroots Leadership, an Austin-based immigrants rights advocacy group, said they've long-believed the reported total of 51 arrests was inaccurate.
"It's one of the reasons we've told our sheriff, Sally Hernandez, we've told our City Council and Interim Police Chief Manley that they should not work with ICE. They cannot be trusted to even give accurate information at a basic level," Parker said.
Of the 132 arrests, 72 people had criminal convictions and 60 people did not.
"We wouldn’t split those two populations (criminals and non-criminals) up. In our opinion, people should not be picked up in their homes, in their streets, and at schools by immigration regardless of their criminal background. There are other ways to deal with that kind of stuff," Parker explained.
She said the conflicting reports cast doubt on the agency's intentions.
"They say this is about public safety. Then why don't they just tell us the truth," asked Parker.
ICE officials gave KVUE the following statement from Daniel Bible, field office director for ICE San Antonio, regarding the Texas Observer report:
In late 2016, the ICE San Antonio Office began planning for a regional ICE operation in the Austin, Texas, area for the February 2017 time frame. Subsequently, ICE also began planning a national operation to occur around the same time. Consequently, the regional San Antonio operation, which was planned apart from the national operation, was folded into the larger national effort. The national operation ended Feb. 10, 2017, resulting in 51 arrests in the Austin area. Since ICE San Antonio had additional criminal targets remaining, its officers continued conducting local operations arresting 81 additional criminal aliens and immigration fugitives in the Austin area on Feb. 11 and 12. However, since the national operation had ended Feb. 10, the arrest stats for the Feb. 11 and 12 regional operation were not included in the national results that were published.
An ICE official also provided this additional background information:
"ICE released a fact sheet about this operation shortly after it ended. It was linked in the news release listed on ICE.gov. The first bullet point specifically states that we targeted immigration fugitives, re-entrants and at-large criminal aliens. A lot of the Intercept story seems to focus on the inaccurate notion that ICE misled individuals, saying we only targeted public safety threats, which is factually inaccurate.
There is a similar statement in our Operation Safe City release: “The operation targeted individuals who have violated U.S. immigration laws, prioritizing aliens with criminal convictions, pending criminal charges, known gang members and affiliates, immigration fugitives and those who re-entered the U.S. after deportation.”
We highlight some criminal cases in news releases because it’s one of the most frequently asked questions from media after an operation. In proactive response to previous ICE operations and news releases, we’ve worked to have as much of this information available at the time of our announcement as possible. In the Safe City news release, we included a complete criminal convictions breakdown and made local information available to local spokesmen.
But U.S. Congressman Lloyd Doggett (D-Austin) and others believe this wasn't simply a case of miscommunication or confusion.
"I think the only confusion was the confusion that was created for the lives of many of our neighbors here in the area by their raids. I think this is very deceptive and it really hides what is the greater Trump agenda of deporting and separating these families. And that does not make us safer," Doggett said.
Congressman Doggett added he believes the Austin raids were partly retaliation for Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez's policy to only honor ICE detainers when certain crimes have been committed. He also wants to know if the number of ICE arrests from the February 2017 operation was underreported in other cities as well. Doggett told KVUE he will work with his colleagues to get that answer.
State Representative Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin), who also serves as policy chair of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, the oldest and largest Latino legislative caucus in the nation, released this statement about the report:
Public information shows that the February 2017 ICE raids that terrorized Austin’s immigrant community likely lasted longer and resulted in significantly more arrests than previously reported. This news follows in the wake of revelations that Austin was specifically targeted for aggressive immigration enforcement, that ICE lied to the public regarding important details about Operation Cross Check and that agency officials were disappointed by their failure to find ‘egregious’ cases to sensationalize.
Even when we were led to believe that the raids resulted in 51 arrests, ICE had only identified 23 of those individuals as having criminal histories - it’s possible that more non-criminals were swept up than we realize. I am deeply troubled by the federal agency’s lack of transparency, accountability and integrity in this matter, and I intend on setting the record straight.