An Australian man was arrested in West Hollywood last week in a series of raids throughout Southern California by federal immigration officials targeting “criminals in the country” and others here illegally.
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said the raids were carried out in six Southern California counties beginning Monday and ending around noon Friday. The operations targeted “at-large criminal aliens, illegal re-entrants and immigration fugitives.”
In its announcement of the raids, ICE officials said 160 people were arrested, 150 of whom had criminal histories. Five others had “final orders of removal or had been previously deported.”
They noted that many of those arrested had prior felony convictions for violent offenses including sex crimes, weapons charges and assault, and some will be referred to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for possible prosecution for re-entering the country illegally.
Details were not provided on the remaining people arrested, but ICE noted that during some raids, officers “frequently encounter additional suspects who may be in the United States in violation of the federal immigration laws. Those persons will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis and, when appropriate, arrested by ICE.”
ICE officials said the Australian citizen arrested in West Hollywood had previously been convicted of lewd acts with a child. It is not clear whether the person had been living in West Hollywood or was just visiting. ICE said that another arrest in Huntington Park was of a Salvadoran national gang member wanted in his home country for aggravated extortion. And in Los Angeles ICE arrested a Brazilian national wanted in Brazil for cocaine trafficking.
The raids have prompted an outcry from local immigrant-rights activists, who suggested the actions were a result of a stepped-up enforcement effort under the Donald Trump presidential administration, which has vowed to crack down on illegal immigrations and people living in the United States without authorization.
Officials with the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles created a toll-free hotline — (888) 624-4752 — for affected immigrants to call for assistance and obtain access to attorneys. The group also has begun to offer hourly training sessions to inform illegal immigrants about their legal rights.
ICE officials insisted that while the raids represented an enforcement “surge,” they were “no different than the routing, targeted arrests carried out by ICE’s Fugitive Operations Teams on a daily basis.”
“The rash of recent reports about purported ICE checkpoints and random sweeps are false, dangerous and irresponsible,” according to ICE. “These reports create panic and put communities and law enforcement personnel in unnecessary danger. Individuals who falsely report such activities are doing a disservice to those they claim to support.”
The City of West Hollywood has declared itself a sanctuary city for undocumented immigrants and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, which provides public safety services in WeHo, has said it will not stop people to ask about their immigration status.