Federal immigration agents arrested four undocumented immigrants this week in Ypsilanti, the latest action that has unnerved immigrant communities in metro Detroit.
The arrests, which took place in Ypsilanti on Wednesday, came a few days after immigration agents arrested three other undocumented immigrants in southwest Detroit, as the U.S. government ramps up its immigration enforcement.
In Ypsilanti, officers with the Enforcement and Removal operations of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) conducted “targeted enforcement actions,” ICE spokeswoman Rachael Yong Yow told the Free Press. “During the course of action, ERO (Enforcement and Removal ) officers encountered multiple persons who were illegally in the United States. Four individuals were taken into custody and are currently being detained.”
And on Feb. 17 in Detroit, “three were arrested following targeted enforcement actions in which specific individuals were sought” in the area of Livernois and Toledo, said Khaalid Walls, head of communications in the Detroit office of ICE.
Immigrant advocates say there have also been local arrests of immigrants at traffic stops and in a restaurant. In Detroit, some are afraid to go to church or school, say local elected officials.
On Tuesday, the Department of Homeland Security released memos that specify how the U.S. will handle immigration enforcement under President Donald Trump’s executive order on Jan. 25 on immigration. The memos call for speeding up deportations and making 11 million undocumented immigrants subject to be removed from the U.S. Under former President Barack Obama, enforcement was largely directed at undocumented immigrants who had committed major crimes.
“People are scared to death,” said Ypsilanti Mayor Amanda Maria Edmonds. “There is a huge amount of anxiety.”
On Wednesday, Edmonds said she got reports from residents about the ICE actions in her city on Forest Avenue. She wrote in a Facebook post that a resident told her that “three unmarked cars pulled over a white truck/van…seemed to ask for papers, and seemingly detained/took away two of the men, who all appeared to be Latino.”
“I am sick about it,” Edmonds said.
Edmonds said that local police were not involved in the ICE actions and weren’t notified about it.
On Feb. 7, Ypsilanti approved a new city ordinance that prohibits profiling of people based on immigration status, similar to a law Detroit passed 10 years ago. It says that local police can’t ask about immigration status, but can cooperate with federal agents when needed for criminal investigations. It goes into effect in a couple of weeks, Edmonds said.
At the Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights, “we’re getting so many calls fast and furious” this week from family and friends of immigrants who are being detained, said Margaret Harner, co-founder of the group that has a hotline for immigrants. “There has been a real upsweep in the amount of raids taking place in Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township within the past 48 hours.
“We have had several eyewitness reports of traffic stops, family members detained. … We know people taken from restaurants.”
The coalition put out an alert Wednesday in Spanish and English, saying, “There have been a number of reports of immigration enforcement activity on the major Ypsi roads. Please avoid these areas if you can and pass the message to your families and friends.”
Harner said she doesn’t have specific figures yet on the number detained. The Washtenaw County Democratic Party said there were 16 arrested in the Ypsilanti area this week.
The Ypsilanti arrests came two weeks after immigration agents arrested 680 immigrants in a series of actions in states across the U.S. that sparked anxiety. The following week, on Feb. 16, immigrants held “A Day Without Immigrants” rallies in cities across the U.S., including in Detroit, Ypsilanti, and Pontiac.
Concern over immigration raids is not new.
In 2011, advocates were worried about actions by federal immigration agents targeting some immigrants outside a Catholic church in southwest Detroit, Ste. Anne de Detroit, during Mass and at a school in southwest Detroit, Hope of Detroit Academy, as parents were dropping off children, the Free Press reported at the time. Also, some Latinos in metro Detroit, including U.S. citizens, have said they are profiled by federal immigration agents. Federal agencies have said they don’t profile based on ethnicity.
In a statement released Thursday, U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., said of the increased ICE activity:
“We are all concerned and actively seeking more answers about reports of increased enforcement activity by ICE in our communities. These targeted enforcement actions have generated a great amount of uncertainty, and we are hearing that many people are afraid to send their children to school out of fear that they may be arrested and deported.
“While ICE has an important job to do, their enforcement actions should prioritize people with serious criminal records who pose an immediate threat to the security and safety of our communities.”
State Rep. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit, said that “families in southwest Detroit are literally afraid to go to church on Sundays because they fear that ICE will conduct a raid.”
“I am extremely concerned that this implementation memo will stoke even greater fear in young children who are afraid they will lose their immigrant parents to deportation,” Chang said. “Rounding up undocumented immigrants who aren’t violent criminals on the street and separating families is simply inhumane. The families in my district deserve better than this chaotic mess, which is going to have a high cost to taxpayers.”
William Lopez, a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor who studies the effects of immigration raids, said that “immigration raids sew fear throughout communities, a fear that extends beyond those who are undocumented into their families and communities.” Lopez said the health of communities suffers when some residents can’t trust food programs, emergency rooms, or local police if there is a crackdown on undocumented immigrants.
Trump has defended the increased actions, saying that the U.S. needs to crack down on criminals and secure its borders.
In a statement Tuesday explaining the memos, the Department of Homeland Security said that “under the executive order, ICE will not exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement. All of those in violation of immigration law may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and, if found removable by final order, removal from the United States.”
Walls, an ICE spokesman, said last week that “reports of ICE checkpoints and sweeps are false, dangerous and irresponsible. These reports create mass panic and put communities and law enforcement personnel in unnecessary danger. Any groups falsely reporting such activities are doing a disservice to those they claim to support.”
Earlier this month, Walls said: “All enforcement activities are conducted with the same level of professionalism and respect that ICE officers exhibit every day.”
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