Is This Normal? is a new Slate series that will attempt to determine which controversial Trump World behaviors are outrageously unprecedented, which are outrageous but within the realm of what others have gotten away with, and which shouldn't be considered outrageous at all.
As a debate over immigration enforcement roils statehouses and federal courts, actions by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in Phoenix and Los Angeles this week spurred protests in both cities and statements from appalled politicians.
Guadalupe García de Rayos, an undocumented mother of two, reported for her regular check-in with ICE agents in Phoenix on Wednesday and was taken into custody. On Thursday morning, she was deported to Mexico—a country she had not seen since she was 14 years old.
García de Rayos had been convicted of a low-level felony in 2009 for using a fake Social Security number to work at a Mesa, Arizona, water park; she was arrested during one of then-Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s notorious immigration raids. She appealed a voluntary departure decision in 2013 (different from a removal) and federal immigration authorities have permitted her to remain in the U.S. as long as she checked in with ICE once or twice a year. This year was different: García de Rayos was one of the first undocumented immigrants to be deported following a scheduled meeting with ICE agents.
On Thursday morning, ICE agents in Los Angeles conducted a series of raids and arrested 160 foreign nationals, approximately 150 of whom had criminal histories, according to a statement released by ICE on Friday afternoon. The raids led to protests in downtown L.A. on Thursday night, and Kevin de León, the leader of the California Senate, called the raids “un-American” on Friday morning.
Are these things normal?
For years, ICE agents have conducted raids on workplaces suspected of employing undocumented immigrants and made individual arrests during or after those raids. They have also conducted raids in immigrant neighborhoods. The raid that led to García de Rayos’ arrest in 2008 was conducted by county police, working in partnership with ICE under the 287 (g) policy that deputized local sheriffs as immigration police. Those types of arrangements were phased out during Obama’s second term, after generating reports of racial profiling and sowing distrust of police in immigrant communities.
Even as local involvement in immigration enforcement has waned, though—and mayors and governors have declared their intent not to participate in federal immigration enforcement—ICE has continued to conduct its own fieldwork in factories, on farms, and in homes. Workplace enforcement fell steeply during Obama’s second term, but large-scale farm and factory raids were the norm during the Bush years and brought devastating consequences for the communities they targeted. The practice has continued, albeit not at the same scale. As recently as last January, Obama’s Department of Homeland Security announced a series of domestic raids targeting Central American families that led to the arrests of 121 undocumented individuals, including 71 children.
So ICE agents making arrests is nothing new—especially in the L.A. area, which is home to nearly 1 in 10 undocumented immigrants in this country, according to a Pew report released this week. In Los Angeles, at least, the question has been about scale: An ICE spokesperson defended the arrests this week as “routine,” and “prioritizing individuals who pose a risk to our communities.”
Advocates disagree: “They say it’s routine, but we don’t believe it was a routine operation,” Angelica Salas, the director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, told the L.A. Times. Several L.A.-area Democrats released statements condemning the raids. What might have passed for a normal, if no-less-contested, act of immigration policing during the Obama years has acquired newfound political significance against the background of the Trump administration. An executive order signed by President Donald Trump in his first week in office promised even more aggressive interior immigration enforcement and indicated a handful of ways in which his administration planned to crack down on undocumented immigrants with criminal records. Those included hiring more ICE agents, deputizing local cops as immigration police, and forcing local jails to detain more individuals suspected of being in the country illegally.
One such alien with a criminal record was Guadalupe García de Rayos. Many states and cities now refuse to detain people like García de Rayos on behalf of ICE without a warrant, saying their detainment detracts from more important police work and discourages immigrants from talking to police. The agency itself was allowing her to stay in the country provided she attended regular check-ins with agents, a decision of a piece with Obama’s 2014 order to reorganize federal immigration enforcement priorities around high-risk individuals.
Hundreds of thousands of immigrants with deportation orders attend regular check-ins with ICE; lawyers fear the era of prosecutorial discretion that allowed people like them to remain in the U.S. has now ended. "I called all my clients and said, 'You've got to be prepared for them to take you into custody,' " said Cheryl David, an immigration lawyer in New York. "I'm pretty sure they're all going to be detained or told to get a ticket and leave on their own." The probationary check-ins with ICE had always felt precarious, she said, because the law had never been changed. There are over 950,000 individuals with final deportation orders living in the United States and not in custody.
García de Rayos may have been the first victim of a change outlined in Trump’s first executive order on immigration that vastly expanded ICE priorities. “Rather than tracking down violent criminals and drug dealers, ICE is spending its energy deporting a woman with two American children who has lived here for more than two decades and poses a threat to nobody,” Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton said in a statement. Her deportation, he added, was “outrageous” and a “travesty.”
ICE raids on homes and workplaces are Normal, though they will likely grow and will certainly inspire more political outrage under Trump. Deportations of residents with nonviolent criminal records are Normal, though they have been less frequent since 2014 and are about to be much more frequent. Deportations of undocumented individuals with deportation orders who have committed to regular meetings with immigration authorities are not Normal—or they weren't.
*This post has been updated with additional information from Cheryl David and from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.