US & Canada

Has Trump started a new deportation drive?

an arrested person Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Hundreds of undocumented immigrants have been arrested following raids

US immigration agents have conducted deportation raids across the country, prompting accusations that President Trump has started a "war on immigrants". But were things any different under Barack Obama?

Church and school officials have reported that immigrants - largely from Hispanic countries originally - have kept their children at home due to a fear they could be arrested.

Activists in Los Angeles have staged protests and are broadcasting "Know Your Rights" public service announcements over the radio in immigrant neighbourhoods.

President Trump has taken credit for the sweeps, calling them a "campaign promise", but US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) says that the operations are "no different than the routine, targeted arrests carried out" on a daily basis.

What just happened?

Hundreds of undocumented immigrants were arrested in raids in at least 11 states during Operation Cross Check over the past week, officials say.

Federal agents stormed homes and workplaces in Atlanta, Austin, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and other cities.

There were 680 people arrested, 75% of whom have been convicted of crimes, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said in a press release on Monday.

ICE does not use the term "raid" but rather calls the sweeps "targeted enforcement actions" and insists they are routine.

To some degree that is true. Operation Cross Check refers to a series of large-scale raids that have been held each year since 2011 when they began under former-president Barack Obama, who has deported more people than any other president.

However, according to campaigners, immigrants without violent criminal histories were arrested as well in these recent raids - a departure from ICE policies under Mr Obama.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Protesters in New York City on Sunday

Why now?

It is too early to say if deportation arrests have increased under the new administration.

On Saturday, President Donald Trump took credit for the arrests, which experts quickly pointed out is very different from the way his predecessor quietly allowed ICE agents to do their work without trying to draw attention to them.

"The crackdown on illegal criminals is merely the keeping of my campaign promise," Mr Trump wrote on Twitter on Sunday. "Gang members, drug dealers & others are being removed!"

Shortly after Mr Trump tweeted, his top adviser Stephen Miller went on TV to explain the legal authority the White House believes it has to conduct the raids.

Image copyright Twitter

"As a result of the president's [executive] order, greatly expanded and more vigorous immigration enforcement activities are taking place," Mr Miller said, referring to the order Mr Trump signed with the title "enhancing public safety in the interior of the United States".

"It is true that Operation Cross Check is something that happens every year," Mr Miller continued. "But this year we have taken new and greater steps to remove criminal aliens from our communities."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Protests broke out at airports last month over Trump's attempt to ban migrants from seven countries and refugees

Mr Obama was heavily criticised by immigrant groups as the "Deporter-in-chief", particularly during his first term as president where he sent more than 400,000 people back to their birth countries each year.

Amid an outcry, Mr Obama amended his approach to prioritise focus on targeting convicted criminals for deportation.

Arrived at 14, deported at 36

Immigrant advocacy groups have been on high alert since the election of Donald Trump; a man who promised to crackdown on illegal immigration and to erect a wall on the US southern border with Mexico.

Last week, a woman who arrived in the US as a 14-year-old was deported to Mexico over a 2009 conviction for falsifying documents in order to work as a janitor.

Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos, who has two US-born children, was taken across the the southern border at Nogales despite efforts by protesters to block her deportation.

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Media captionGuadalupe Garcia de Rayos tells the BBC: 'Trump has taken a mother from her children'

She had previously been able to remain in the US due to an Obama policy that allowed people that came to the US as children to remain.

Her lawyer told the New York Times that a "war on immigrants" had begun.

But despite this, Mexico's Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray said on Monday that the number of deportations to Mexico has not yet risen significantly.

He added that consulates in the US have been flooded with about three times as many phone calls from concerned Mexican citizens living there since the November election.

How are immigrant communities feeling about it?

By Sunday, immigrant communities were still struggling to understand the scope of the raids, keeping in mind Mr Trump's campaign promise to assemble a "deportation force".

He has pledged to deport up to three million criminals, but for the moment it is still unclear what Mr Trump's administration defines as criminal.

Mr Obama targeted those that had violent criminal convictions (eventually deporting over 2.5 million people), but immigration advocates fear that simply living in the US without documents can earn them a ticket back to their birth country.

"There is a dreadful sense of fear," said Pastor Fred Morris, whose church is in a predominantly Hispanic section of Los Angeles.

"It's more than palpable. It's radiating. People are terrified.

"They were just sitting there in stunned silence," he said about his congregation after Sunday services.

Protests against the raids broke out in major American cities over the weekend, but for now, immigrants are keeping a watchful eye on what the government does next.