The Stark Geography of U.S. Immigration Raids

The largest immigration raid in U.S. history happened in Postville, Iowa. Over a couple of days in May 2008, teams of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents flooded the tiny meatpacking town, arresting over 389 people as helicopters swirled overhead. A decade later, memories of the incident remain fresh; some residents who were children during the raid are still in therapy, one local advocate told the Des Moines Register.

Community arrests like this, in which undocumented people are rounded up in workplaces and homes, can tear the fabric of an entire town: Homes are left empty, jobs undone, families uprooted, and neighbors divided. “Large-scale raids are experienced locally as disasters, even by those not directly affected,” Elizabeth Oglesby, a professor of Latin American Studies and Geography at the University of Arizona, wrote in June.

While both Democratic and Republican administrations have used ICE raids to enforce immigration laws, the current one has expressed a particular enthusiasm for this traumatizing technique: Community arrests have risen in the first two years of the Trump administration compared to the last years of the Obama administration. But while the news of raids may have a widespread chilling effect on immigrant communities, the majority of ICE’s arrests via this method are concentrated in a few places, according to a new report by Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), a data gathering and research organization at Syracuse University. Between October 2017 and May 2018, community arrests happened in a total of 574 of 3,200 counties. But just 10 saw around 28 percent of ICE community arrests. And half of all the raids were conducted in just 24 counties.

By Tanvi Misra for CITY LAB
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