Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents overwhelmed a warehouse north of Dallas on Wednesday, in the agency's largest single workplace mass arrest in a decade. As federal agents led employees away, family members of those arrested began to arrive outside, many of them emotional and asking what would happen to their loved ones. In total, ICE detained more than 280 people in the town of Allen, Texas, all employees at CVE Technology Group, a New Jersey-based electronics repair company.
"It's not fair. It's really sad and it makes a lot of people really angry and frustrated," Anel Perez, the daughter of someone who was detained, told NBC News.
Details were still emerging on Thursday, but one aspect of the arrest stood out to advocates: the fact that ICE was targeting community members, not criminals or recent arrivals.
"This is how ICE uses the money that funds the agency: to terrorize immigrant communities and people of color with raids that separate families, and [to put] our loved ones behind cages and jails," United We Dream, an advocacy group for undocumented youth, tweeted as news of the raid broke.
ICE once had a mandate to prioritize enforcement activities that would keep Americans safe. However, under President Donald Trump, ICE's priorities have expanded so significantly that the agency's mandate now essentially calls for it to arrest everyone it legally can—not just people who have committed violent crimes, but also mothers and fathers who have worked in the country peacefully for decades.
Under the Obama administration, ICE was given instructions to prioritize targeting and removing people who posed a threat to national security or public safety, people who had recently crossed the border, and people who had already been removed. While President Barack Obama still deported more people than any other president, ICE, in general, exercised discretion in how it chose to use its enforcement resources.
That's part of why the Texas raid was the largest since March of 2008 (when 389 people were arrested in an Iowa slaughterhouse). Under Obama, ICE didn't prioritize removing immigrants like most of the people it arrested in Texas—people working and living their lives as undocumented community members.
The special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations (an investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security) in Dallas, Katrina W. Berger, said on Wednesday that the raid was necessary to combat labor practices that pose unfair challenges to American workers.
"Businesses that knowingly hire illegal aliens create an unfair advantage over their competing businesses," Berger said in an ICE statement. "In addition, they take jobs away from U.S. citizens and legal residents, and they create an atmosphere poised for exploiting their illegal workforce."
According to the American Immigration Council, since the Trump administration has expanded ICE's priority list, ICE arrests and deportations have increased dramatically: From January to September of 2017 alone, ICE made 110,568 arrests—a 42 percent increase over the same time period in 2016.