Dozens of people–many from Mexico and Central America–were arrested in New Jersey by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement last week, in a five-day operation that officials on Tuesday said was targeted at “criminal aliens” and those charged with immigration violations.
ICE said most of those arrested, who ranged in age 20 to 71 years old, had prior felony convictions.
As part of this operation, we continue focus on the arrest of individuals who are criminal and are a threat to public safety and national security,” said John Tsoukaris, who heads ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations in Newark.
Nationwide, arrests under the Trump Administration of immigrants here illegally have jumped 40 percent in the fiscal year, according to figures recently released by the government. ICE refused to disclose the total of arrests it has made in New Jersey since January. A spokeswoman directed a reporter to file a Freedom of Information Act request for the data.
Among those arrested last week included 18 nationals of the Dominican Republic, 15 from Mexico, eight from Honduras and seven from El Salvador. Others included individuals from the United Kingdom, Ukraine, Korea, and the Philippines.
Officials offered no breakdown of the charges they faced, other than to report 80 percent of them had prior felony convictions. ICE said those convictions included sexual assault on a minor, possession and distribution of narcotics, DUI, shoplifting, and illegal reentry.
Immigration attorney Harlan York of Newark said the arrests were typical of ICE operations.
“The recent and frequent removals of non-criminal immigrants is a disturbing trend,” he said. “Also, detention without bail of visa overstays is something that appears new.”
Enforcement efforts by ICE have not been without controversy in the state, with New Jersey’s chief justice earlier this year calling on federal immigration officials to stop arresting unauthorized immigrants at state courthouses.
In a letter to the federal Department of Homeland Security, Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner raised objections to the arrests people making routine appearances in New Jersey Superior Court. He warned the practice of targeting immigrants in court could undermine New Jersey’s justice system.
ICE claims its agents go to courthouses only after options are exhausted.
Earlier this month, Oscar and Humberta Campos, who came to New Jersey from Mexico 30 years ago, were deported, leaving their three children behind. The couple, who lived in Bridgeton and own a landscaping company, had been working legally and paying taxes, as well as meeting regularly with immigration authorities.
Nationally, nearly 90 percent of all deportation cases filed in immigration court in fiscal year 2017 do not involve criminal charges, according to data compiled by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse or TRAC, a non-partisan research group based at Syracuse University.
In fact, an analysis by NJ Advance Media of immigration data compiled by the TRAC shows that over the past five years, the majority of those deported have not been convicted of any crime.
In New Jersey, of 8,273 new deportation proceedings filed in immigration court in fiscal year 2017, only 414 resulted from criminal charges, that data showed.
By Ted Sherman