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US authorities detain hundreds in immigration raids

US authorities have arrested hundreds of people across five states. Officials have called the operations "routine" but immigration advocates say it signals a more aggressive policy under President Donald Trump.

Hundreds of people who were in the United States without authorization were arrested this week as President Donald Trump's hard-line stand on immigration appears to be being put into action.

The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency conducted a series of immigration sweeps across Atlanta, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and the surrounding areas. While the agency did not release the total number of detainees, a spokesman for the Atlanta office said it had arrested 200 people, while the director of enforcement and removal for the Los Angeles field office, David Marin, said his office counted 161 arrests.

This week's raids sparked concerns among immigration advocates and families. The sweep comes on the heels of Trump's executive order barring refugees and migrants from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the US. The order is currently on hold after a District Court judge in Seattle ordered a temporary halt to the ban.

"The fear coursing through immigrant homes and the native-born Americans who love immigrants as friends and family is palpable," the executive director of the National Immigration Forum, Ali Noorani, said in a statement. "Reports of raids in immigrant communities are a grave concern."

Business as usual?

Authorities have refuted claims that this week's raids mark a step-up in enforcement under Trump, saying they are simply enforcing laws and conducting "routine" sweeps against immigrants who are in the country illegally or have criminal records. The raids, they say, are no different to what was enforced under former President Barack Obama.

Marin described this week's operations as an "enforcement surge" and said that "rash of recent reports about purported ICE checkpoints and random sweeps are false, dangerous, and irresponsible." 

This week's operation was in the planning stages "before the administration came out with their current executive orders," Marin said, adding that only five of the 161 people arrested in southern California would not have been deportation priorities under Obama.

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Immigration in the Trump era

The Obama administration also took a hardline on illegal immigrants. While the government prioritized illegal immigrants posing a risk to national security or public safety, the US still deported more than 2 million people during Obama's eight years in office. In 2012 alone, the US deported a record 409,000 people.

Trump's order, however, has broadened the categories of people targeted for deportation.

Signed five days after Trump took office, the new executive order makes any illegal immigrant living in the US a priority for deportation, above all those with outstanding deportation orders. Trump also said the enforcement priorities would include legal immigrants who had been convicted of a criminal offence.

Michael Kagan, a professor of immigration law at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, warned that this week's sweeping arrests could signal the start of a more aggressive enforcement.

"It sounds as if the majority are people who would have been priorities under Obama as well," Kagan said. "But the others may indicate the first edge of a new wave of arrests and deportations."

dm/jlw (AP, Reuters)

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