Protests over detention of immigrants across US

Detentions of undocumented migrants seen as culmination of big shift in the US policy since January 25 executive order.

Texas, USA – Protests have erupted across the US after the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency swept across several US cities, detaining undocumented migrants.

Early Friday’s raids came quickly after President Donald Trump signed three executive orders on Thursday reportedly aimed at crime reduction.

Los Angeles, Austin and Phoenix have all seen demonstrations.

Demonstrators in Los Angeles shut down a highway following reports of raids, and Arizona has seen increased numbers at a number of weeks-old protest sites following the detainment of Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos.

Garcia de Rayos was the first undocumented immigrant to be detained late on Wednesday in Phoenix, prompting increased demonstrations in front of Phoenix’s central ICE office.

Jose Matus of the Arizona-based Indigenous Alliance without Borders, a non-profit that works to educate indigenous and non-indigenous people living on the border of their rights, told Al Jazeera that Garcia de Rayos had been deported along with her family.

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“They found she had a police record, so they decided to take her. It’s part of Trump’s idea to deport so-called felons,” Matus said.

The moves are seen as a culmination of a huge shift in the US immigration policy following Trump’s January 25 executive order to “ensure the faithful execution of the immigration laws” of the country.

The ICE reportedly declined to deport Garcia de Rayos for four years under former President Barack Obama, who was informally known as the “deporter-in-chief”.

Matus did not view her as a threat to US national security.

In Austin, at least five undocumented residents have been detained.

‘Scrambling’ for information

Cristina Parker, the immigration programmes director at Austin-based Grassroots Leadership, which organises against deportations and mass incarceration, informed Al Jazeera there may be more.

“Everyone is scrambling to get information. There are unconfirmed reports of detentions across the city. Those who are most affected by these actions are the hardest to get in contact with, currently,” Parker said.

Austin has been the epicentre of the national battle over so-called sanctuary cities, an unofficial designation of cities that generally offer safety to undocumented migrants and often do not use municipal funds or resources to advance the enforcement of federal immigration laws.

According to local reports, the ICE detained each of the five in separate, targeted raids.

Robert Painter, the interim executive director of American Gateways, which provides low-cost legal help to immigrants, told Al Jazeera on Friday morning that ICE’s actions were “counterproductive … they only sow mistrust between the immigrant community and the government”.

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Painter was similarly unable to provide a firm number of how many had been detained or if they were being deported.

“We stand ready to advocate for our immigrant community and provide representation wherever we can,” he concluded.

Back in Arizona, Matus was similarly defiant: “We’re going to continue protesting. Now that the courts have blocked the Muslim ban, there’s the wall. The Tohono O’odham tribe, whose lands cross the [US-Mexico] border, they don’t want that there.”

Native Americans have seen an increase in threatening policies, including infrastructure initiatives and Trump’s revival of the Dakota Access Pipeline that protesters at Standing Rock had fought for months to defeat.

“We’re also worried about the changes to border crossing following these executive orders. It’s a lot of threats,” Matus said.

Follow Creede on Twitter: @creedenewton

Source: Al Jazeera