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In Utah, ICE Arrests for ‘Gang Ties’ Don’t Hold Up

Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced last week a record number of arrests of gang-affiliated illegal immigrants in Utah, netting 158 people alleged to have gang ties. But some of the individuals have neither criminal charges nor previous criminal records, The Salt Lake Tribune reported today. An ICE official told the Tribune that 65 of those caught in the sweep were not charged with crimes and are part of a preemptive effort to catch gang members.

Agency leaders have said they prioritize immigration enforcement of the most dangerous illegal immigrants first, including those with gang ties. The sting was a four-month joint effort between local law enforcement and ICE officers. They identified 158 people suspected of gang ties, 31 of whom had been previously deported from the U.S. The individuals are being charged with crimes or processed for deportation, ICE announced.

But immigration attorneys argued law enforcement is applying the “gang member” label too broadly on illegal immigrants, according to the Tribune article:

“We’ve gotten five or six of these gang cases in the past week, and I have three clients who have no criminal record,” said Aaron Tarin, an immigration attorney who is representing Salazar-Gomez. “They were not affiliated with gangs or participating in illegal activity, but they are being labeled as gang members because they have tattoos, usually that are completely unrelated to gang membership.”

Salazar-Gomez’s arrest as a gang member may derail his attempt to stay in the country, even though he meets the requirements to stay, Tarin said, including being in the country long enough and having no criminal background.

Immigrants rights advocates say ICE’s actions are contradicting its stated policies on immigration enforcement. Records released this month showed about one quarter of those deported under Secure Communities, an enforcement program focused on undocumented immigrants who have committed crimes, did not have criminal records, for instance.

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