On Feb. 12, senior attorney Lee Gelernt of the American Civil Liberties Union announced that the ACLU would establish a rapid response team to provide swift legal counsel to undocumented immigrants caught in raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The civil rights organization anticipates that deportations will rise dramatically following an executive order signed by President Donald Trump.
The team will be coordinated between the ACLU, private law firms and local community groups.
The announcement follows a week of intensified ICE activity, with immigration officers conducting several raids across at least six states and arresting 160 undocumented immigrants in Los Angeles alone.
The raids occurred between Feb. 6 through Feb. 10. The Department of Homeland Security confirmed that immigration officials conducted their enforcement actions in six states, but immigration activists asserted that ICE raids occurred in four additional states, noting enforcement actions in Florida, Kansas, Texas and Virginia, The Washington Post reports.
DHS spokeswoman Gillian Christensen has described the raids as routine, adding that the majority of undocumented immigrants arrested during the week had felony convictions.
"We're talking about people who are threats to public safety or a threat to the integrity of the immigration system," Christensen said.
The enforcement and removal operations director of ICE's Los Angeles branch, David Marin, disclosed that 25 percent of the 160 immigrants rounded up throughout the week did not have felony convictions, while 37 percent of detainees had swiftly been deported.
The Obama administration had deported roughly 2.5 million undocumented immigrants but had prioritized deportation of violent felons and repeat offenders. On Jan. 25, Trump signed an executive order that broadened the criteria for priority deportations. Under the executive action, undocumented immigrants can be prioritized for deportation for merely being suspected of a misdemeanor.
"I think it covers just about every illegal alien in the country," legal expert Hans von Spakovsky of the Heritage Foundation told CNN.
Law professor Stephen Legomsky of Washington University noted that the executive order places undocumented immigrants with citizen children and who comply with local laws in the same pool for priority deportation as violent offenders, describing the new criteria as "crazy."
Walter Barrientos, an organizer with grassroots immigrant-advocacy group Make the Road New York, asserts that the new criteria has caused confusion and fear among immigrant communities.
"We cannot understate the level of panic and terror that is running through many immigrant communities," Barrientos said.
Gelernt believes that the recent raids are a prelude for aggressive deportations under the Trump administration.
"This administration is just getting started and we're anticipating much worse," Gelernt told ABC News, noting that Trump had vowed a strict approach to immigration enforcement. "His rhetoric is already scaring a lot of people in immigrant communities."