U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents say they arrested 153 people in Texas suspected of being in the country illegally — including 24 people picked up in the Austin-Waco area — as part of the second enforcement operation immigration officials have confirmed in the state this year.
The 12-day operation, which lasted from March 20 to March 31, differed in execution and results from another one performed in the area during the second week of February.
That raid was part of the nationwide Operation Cross Check, and it lasted four days and resulted in 51 arrests in the Austin-San Antonio area — twice as many as the March sweep. And while the February raid generated fear and anxiety in the immigrant community for days before it was confirmed, the March operation didn’t appear to cause such a stir.
ICE officials also said all of the people arrested in last month’s operation had previous criminal convictions, as opposed to the February raid. Federal documents obtained by the American-Statesman showed 28 of the 51 people arrested in February were deemed “non-criminals,” or people with no previous criminal convictions but suspected of living in the country illegally.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew Austin said in open court last month that ICE agents alerted him and another federal judge about the February raid, which they said was retribution for the new Travis County sheriff’s policy limiting the jail’s cooperation with immigration officials, the Statesman reported last month.
ICE officials declined Friday to comment further on the arrests, but in a news release, Daniel Bible, field office director for enforcement and removal operations in San Antonio, said: “ICE’s primary immigration enforcement efforts target convicted criminal aliens. … Consequently, our operations improve overall public safety by removing these criminals from our streets, and ultimately from our country.”
Local activists criticized the new operation.
“I think this continues a trend of ICE instilling fear in our community and … arresting more people in our community,” said Bob Libal, with the Austin-based immigration support network Grassroots Leadership.
Those arrested in the March sweep included foreign nationals from five countries: 140 from Mexico, seven from Honduras, three from Guatemala, two from Canada and one from El Salvador.
The operation resulted in arrests by officers in the following San Antonio field office cities: 24 in Austin-Waco, 62 in San Antonio, 29 in Laredo and 38 in Harlingen.
Of those arrested, 138 were men, and 15 were women.
Federal officials said 33 people will face criminal prosecution on charges of re-entry after deportation.
Those who have outstanding orders of removal, or who illegally re-entered the U.S. after being deported, are subject to immediate removal, according to immigration officials.
Those remaining in ICE custody are awaiting a hearing before a federal immigration judge or travel arrangements for removal.
Officials with the Austin Police Department and Travis County sheriff’s office said ICE agents did not notify them about plans for the March operation.