Can ICE Arrest Citizens? Agents Have Reportedly Detained Hundreds Of Americans Since 2012

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Ever since President Donald Trump took office, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement has been ramping up its immigration raids and arrests, taking an increasingly strident and aggressive posture towards undocumented immigrants. And that's not all ― ICE has reportedly wrongly arrested hundreds of American citizens too, according to a report from The Los Angeles Times.

As Paige St. John and Joel Rubin reported for the Times this week, a review of internal ICE documents and federal lawsuit records, in addition to interviews with people who were arrested and detained, show the scale of the problem. Bustle has reached out to ICE for comment.

The report states that at least 1,480 people have been released from ICE custody after it was revealed that they were in fact U.S. citizens since 2012. This includes one man, a Jamaican native named Davino Watson who possessed U.S. citizenship through his father, who was jailed for a staggering 1,273 days between 2008 and 2011.

As Watson's case illuminates, this is not specifically a story about ICE under Trump. He was first arrested and jailed by ICE in May of 2008, during the final months of the Bush administration, and languished in jail for years during former president Barack Obama's first term.

The report states that those more than a thousand arrests occurred over the last six years, between 2012 and 2018. Since Trump took office, arrests by ICE have noticeably surged, although those numbers also include arrests of undocumented immigrants.

According to the Times, ICE makes more than 100,000 arrests per year, which means the number of U.S. citizens wrongly arrested accounts for just percentage points of the agency's total number of arrests. That said, it's a major problem, reportedly enabled in part by the agency's reliance on incomplete computer databases to ascertain people's citizenship statuses.

ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations Executive Associate Director Matthew Albence declined to be interviewed for the Times' report, but he reportedly told the paper that the agency takes the situation seriously.

"U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement takes very seriously any and all assertions that an individual detained in its custody may be a U.S. citizen," Albence said.

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ICE has recently drawn an increased amount of public scrutiny, owing to Trump's highly visible public calls for increases in deportations of undocumented immigrants. The agency is led by Thomas Homan, who took over in an acting capacity just days after Trump took office last year, and was named the permanent director in Nov. 2017.

It's also been the subject of recent calls from progressive activists and pro-immigration advocates, who've argued that it should be abolished outright. Some Democrats have embraced this idea, including Wisconsin congressional candidate Randy Bryce, who's running to replace outgoin-g congressman and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.

In all, more than a dozen Democratic office seekers have already voiced support for either de-funding or doing away with ICE altogether. The agency is not that old, n terms of simple years ― it was first formed in 2003, in the shadow of the World Trade Center terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Since its formation, it's been a highly controversial agency, owing to the fact that it's responsible for arresting and deporting undocumented immigrants, and in some cases breaking up families in the process.

That's before even considering the problem of U.S. citizens getting scooped up by ICE, as well, as Friday's report from the Times details. It remains to be seen what will ultimately happen to the agency in the months and years to come, but for now at least, it's clear it enjoys the staunch support of the president.