Twin Cities immigration arrests raise fears of ‘new normal’

Published 7:36 am Wednesday, February 15, 2017

By Mila Koumpilova

Minneapolis Star Tribune

Arrests made by federal immigration agents at a south metro mobile home park and apartment complex last week are prompting a fevered question across Minnesota: Was it business as usual or the first sign here of the kind of stepped-up immigration enforcement favored by President Donald Trump?

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The Trump administration said Monday that more than 680 immigrants were arrested nationally last week as part of an enforcement sweep. But Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, in Minnesota said the state was not part of this operation, and the nine local arrests on Feb. 7 were “routine law enforcement.”

To some local advocates and attorneys, last week’s arrests did signal an enforcement shift, one that swept up immigrants who were “in the wrong place at the wrong time” — people without criminal convictions who might have gotten a pass under the Obama administration’s narrower deportation guidelines. Here and nationally, advocates have been bracing for just such a shift since a January executive order that greatly broadened the nation’s priorities for detention and deportation.

Experts at the Detainee Rights Clinic, a local campus effort that tracks immigration detentions, said it was too soon to diagnose a major change. Leaders said they have seen an uptick in the number of immigration detainees at local jails, but not yet a marked shift in who is detained.

“Absolutely the plan is to ramp up immigration enforcement,” said the clinic’s Linus Chan, a University of Minnesota law professor. “Right now, it still looks like ICE is mainly focusing on people who might have been picked up under the old priorities.”

The Department of Homeland Security, of which ICE is part, said that a series of operations in California, Texas, Illinois, Georgia and New York City were routine and targeted immigrants who “pose a threat to public safety, border security or the integrity of our nation’s immigration system.”

About three-quarters of those arrested had criminal convictions, from homicide and aggravated sexual abuse to DWIs.

But on Sunday talk shows, White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller touted what he called “greatly expanded and more vigorous immigration enforcement activities” as a direct result of the Trump’s order.

Shawn Neudauer, a spokesman for ICE’s St. Paul office, said the recent south metro arrests were “simply routine law enforcement.” He stressed ICE did not conduct random sweeps or set up checkpoints.