“What haunts me (is the man with) two small children and they wouldn’t give him bond,” Mercedes Victoria Castillo, a community attorney with National Lawyers Guild LA told teleSUR.
Castillo is referring to one of the thousands of people deported under U.S. President Barack Obama’s watch—a president who has repeatedly emphasized that only “gang bangers” and “criminals” will be deported.
“We’re going to keep focusing enforcement resources on actual threats to our security,” Obama said in November 2014. “Felons, not families. Criminals, not children. Gang members, not a mom who’s working hard to provide for her kids.”
But data obtained by The Marshall Project from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE, details 308,088 deportations between November 2014 and April 2016, where the majority—about 60 percent—were immigrants with no criminal conviction at all or whose only crime was immigration-related, such as entry or re-entry without documentation.
WATCH: Migrants and Activists Demand End to Deportation Raids
In addition, The Marshall Project found that 21 percent of people were convicted of petty, nonviolent crimes other than immigration. Less than 20 percent of all people deported had only potentially violent convictions, such as assault, DUI or weapons offenses.
“Priorities have switched to people with even minor convictions,” said Castillo. “(They’re) sweeping up everyone.”
“In the last two to three years (they have been) apprehending people while coming back from trips abroad,” she added, detailing the story of a woman who had lived in the United States for 20 years, but was held in custody by immigration officials over petty debt issues.
The ICE’s statistics which sort criminal from non-criminal deportees is misleading. The agency asserts that one-third of its deportations were of “criminal aliens”—but the "crimes" committed are only immigration-related ones. And only 11 percent of deportations were for drug offenses, one-third of which were for marijuana-related offenses.
As Castillo explains, ICE officers also pressure people to give in to the system.
“You may not have any conviction but an ICE officer will tell you you’ll be in custody for months before you see an immigration lawyer,” she said, saying that situations like these cause many to be “tricked into voluntary departure.”
Raids by ICE also usurp convictions placed on immigrants from years past. More than 20 percent of all those deported for non-immigration offenses were convicted prior to 2005, with half of them charged for nonviolent crimes.
WATCH: Govt Plans Massive Deportation of Undocumented Immigrants
“I had never seen people getting picked up at home for an old DUI charge until recently,” Peter Corrales, an immigration attorney in California who has represented several men swept up in ICE raids over drunk driving charges from the 90s, told The Marshall Project. “They thought they had already served whatever punishment through the criminal justice system, and it’s over.”
As even "legal" permanent residents continue to be swept up in this storm of deportations, with as many as 3,000 deported since November 2014. Castillo told teleSUR that many detainees are transferred to remote facilities far away from their families, leaving them isolated from families, lawyers, and many essential services.
"I have had clients placed in removal (deportation) proceedings for being at the beach after hours," Nora Phillips, an East Los Angeles immigration attorney wrote teleSUR in an email, "flower vending (bouquets) without a permit, having a fake ID in their possession that they used solely for work, being stopped at a stop sign for no constitutional reason in Arizona, and the list goes on and on," she wrote. "President Obama's administration has also prioritized the vague, kiss-of-death label of 'gang member' and gang allegations are made all the time, often with little to no proof of any type of gang affiliation."
"I really hope this system changes because it's horribly cruel."