After last week’s deportation raids that resulted in the arrest of 680 people across the country ― including five in Santa Barbara County ― city police are trying to dispel still-swirling rumors of immigration raids and checkpoints actively taking place throughout town.
“We have been receiving information that people are claiming there are ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] checkpoints in the city,” said Sergeant Joshua Morton in an email. Similarly, The Santa Barbara Independent has received multiple reports since Monday of ICE agents making arrests along State, Milpas, and San Andres streets. A checkpoint on Las Positas Road was also described. None of those reports could be verified.
“[ICE] has not conducted any ‘checkpoints’ within the City of Santa Barbara,” said Morton. Police did set up a DUI checkpoint over the weekend, Morton explained, but it was announced ahead of time and did not involve federal agents.
When ICE agents enter Santa Barbara to conduct what the agency calls “targeted enforcement operations,” they typically operate on their own but will occasionally ask the police for assistance. Federal officials are not required to notify local law enforcement departments when operating within their jurisdictions but may do so as a matter of courtesy. “It does not appear [ICE agents] were in the city making any of the arrests during this sweep,” said Morton.
ICE officials confirmed Monday that 161 arrests were made in six Southern California counties during the five-day, nationwide roundup. More than half of those 161 arrests took place in Los Angeles. The majority of suspects ― 151 ― had prior criminal convictions for domestic violence (42), drug offenses (26), assault (23), sex crimes (17), and DUI (17). The suspects came from 13 different countries, including Mexico (121), El Salvador (16), and Guatemala (11).
ICE agents arrested four individuals in Santa Maria and one in Los Alamos. The agency has not disclosed the nature of their offenses. The Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Office was not called to assist.
“This operation targeted public safety threats,” the agency said in a statement, “such as convicted criminal aliens and gang members, and individuals who have violated our nation’s immigration laws, including those who re-entered the country after being deported.” Those prosecuted for felony “re-entry after deportation” face up to 20 years in prison.
Federal authorities admitted that during their sweeps, agents frequently encounter immigrants who may not have committed any crimes other than entering the country illegally. Those people are evaluated on a case-by-case basis, the agency said, and are arrested when appropriate.
Immigration advocates across the country contend last week’s sweeps were both broader and more intrusive than previous ICE enforcement actions. They worry the raids are a sign of things to come under President Donald Trump and his stated intentions of deporting millions of undocumented immigrants. “These mass immigration raids are striking terror into our communities,” said Lucas Zucker with CAUSE, an immigrant rights group. “For so many local people this means at any moment their parents or spouses, neighbors or friends, coworkers or classmates could be picked up and taken away.”
Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said Monday the arrests were business as usual for the agency. “ICE conducts these kind of targeted enforcement operations regularly and has for many years,” he said in a statement. “The focus of these enforcement operations is consistent with the routine, targeted arrests carried out by ICE’s Fugitive Operations teams on a daily basis.” Kelly noted that Trump “has been clear in affirming the critical mission of [the Department of Homeland Security] in protecting the nation,” and he has directed the the department to focus on removing undocumented immigrants who have violated immigration laws.
ICE officials also criticized anyone who would falsely report checkpoints or sweeps. “These reports create panic and put communities and law enforcement personnel in unnecessary danger,” the agency said. “Any groups or individuals falsely reporting such activities are doing a disservice to those they claim to support.”