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Citing Lack Of Access, Immigrant Rights Activists Compare Thursday's ICE Sweeps To LAX Chaos

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Fear and protests were sparked Thursday night by reports that immigration sweeps in the greater Los Angeles area had led to the detention of approximately a hundred individuals. Protesters marched downtown and briefly shut down a freeway onramp following an emergency vigil held by immigrant rights activists yesterday evening.

Starting at around 11 a.m. Thursday, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles started receiving word from attorneys in their network that people were being picked up by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, along with calls from community members who had witnessed ICE activity.

CHIRLA—a longstanding immigrant rights group that operates a rapid-response network for raids—is set up to field, and respond to, these kinds of calls. But staffers quickly realized on Thursday that the volume of calls was much higher than normal. Immigrant rights activists say that sweeps were carried out in at least five locations around the greater Los Angeles area, leading to up to a hundred people being detained and taken to ICE offices downtown. ICE officials maintained that the day's events were nothing out of the ordinary, and that the numbers were exaggerated.

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ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice told LAist via email Thursday that the office was "getting flooded with media calls on purported raids," and that ICE officers "conduct enforcement actions every day around the country and here in Southern California as part of the agency’s ongoing efforts to uphold public safety and border security." Kice said that the agency's operations were "targeted and lead driven, prioritizing individuals who pose a risk to our communities," and that ICE's activities remained "ongoing."

A Department of Homeland Security official also told the Daily News that reports about the number of immigration-related arrests made Thursday were “grossly exaggerated.”

"This is not routine," CHIRLA executive director Angelica Salas said at an emergency rally held outside of the Roybal Federal Building and Metropolitan Detention Center Thursday evening. "What we're seeing is a mass operation where large numbers of people are being picked up," Salas said, explaining that some of the individuals picked up during the sweeps had outstanding deportation orders, and others had pending cases in immigration court. Salas also told the Washington Post that one or two people are typically held at the detention center on a given day.

"This is what immigration enforcement looks like. It's happens everyday. But it's happening large scale," Salas explained at Thursday's rally. It's important to note that this kind of enforcement is not new—it was happening under President Obama, and it's not actually illegal. However, what is new, according to immigrant rights activists, is the lack of information being given to attorneys. That, coupled with the current political climate, has led to increased fear and panic here in Los Angeles, a region home to an estimated 1 million undocumented individuals. According to the L.A. Times, local police are also fighting rumors that they were somehow involved in the sweeps. Los Angeles Deputy Police Chief Bob Green reiterated that his department would not participate in federal immigration sweeps, telling the paper that that the LAPD was "working hard with the immigrant communities to dispel fears.”

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At a press conference Friday morning, Salas compared Thursday's events to the chaos at Los Angeles International Airport following the implementation of the travel ban. "This is something very similar to what happened at LAX, where Customs and Border Protection denied access to individuals that were being detained," Salas said. "We're very concerned that this is going to be a pattern."

According to Salas, CHIRLA staff attorneys dispatched to the detention center on Thursday were denied access to a list of individuals who were affected by the operation. They were also informed by an ICE official that about a hundred people were detained. While awaiting information, CHIRLA attorneys witnessed five vans and a bus, which were presumably carrying detainees, leaving the detention center.

"ICE is denying information and misleading attorneys, and yesterday's operation was a coordinated effort," Salas said Friday. "ICE has not yet stated clear information about yesterday's effort, such as how many people were arrested and why, how many were women and how many were men. This is unacceptable," Salas continued. Salas also said that the lack of information was atypical, and that it was "very customary for ICE to provide information about the number of people arrested." CHIRLA attorneys were also denied access to the names of individuals detained.

"It’s outrageous that ICE would go into the homes of hardworking people and tear them away from their children,” U.S. Rep. Tony Cardenás said in a statement released Thursday night. “I’m demanding that ICE provide me, the representative of this community, with more information and the purpose of these raids."

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CHIRLA will be holding Know Your Rights workshops at their Westlake offices every hour on the hour starting at 10 a.m. Friday. If you or someone you know has recently been detained by ICE, you can contact CHIRLA at 1 (888) 624-4752.