Last February, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raid rocked the Austin area, sweeping up a broad swath of immigrants, including scores with clean criminal records, parents with young children, construction workers leaving their job sites and customers outside fast-food restaurants. At the time, ICE reported that the operation netted 51 arrests, but some media and activist reports suggested a higher number. Now, in response to a nearly year-old public information request, an internal ICE tally obtained by the Observer reveals that ICE nabbed 132 immigrants in the Austin area, nearly triple the number previously reported.
“This reflects what we saw on the ground, that ICE’s actions completely terrorized our community,” said Bob Libal, director of Grassroots leadership, an Austin immigrant rights group that reported receiving over a thousand calls to its deportation hotline during the operation. “It reflects the impact we saw in the community, which was that of a large-scale action.”
On February 13, amid panic in the Austin immigrant community, ICE released a fact sheet stating that 51 immigrants had been arrested during the operation on February 9 and 10. But this week, ICE San Antonio field office director Daniel Bible confirmed the higher figure in an email and explained that the agency made an additional 81 arrests on February 11 and 12. Bible explained the discrepancy by saying that a two-day national operation overlapped with a separate four-day regional operation aimed at “additional criminal targets.” Of the 81 arrested on February 11 and 12, just 49 had any criminal conviction.
Immigrant advocates question why ICE didn’t come clean about how many people it arrested a year ago, and express skepticism about the agency’s explanation of overlapping operations. “The fact that ICE can’t keep their story straight on what they did is reflective of ICE lying about their intentions and the scope of their actions,” said Libal. “If this is their excuse, when they’re pressed on what they did, it’s ridiculous. Honestly, it’s bullshit.”
The statistic of 51 arrests had curious sticking power in the media. An Austin American-Statesman article from March, for example, cited the 51 figure as the total number of arrests, even though the article itself reported additional arrests that weren’t included in ICE’s statistic. The figure has been cited as recently as October.
Lack of a clear arrest total was one of multiple oddities that emerged from February’s raid. In March, a federal judge claimed that ICE had told him the action was retaliation against Austin for Travis County’s “sanctuary” policies. And The Intercept revealed in October that ICE agents scrambled during the operation to compile “egregious” cases in an attempt to paint the action as targeting hardened criminals. Of the 51 arrested on February 9 and 10, fewer than half, 23, had criminal convictions.
State Representative Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, said Tuesday he was “deeply troubled by the federal agency’s lack of transparency” in response to the Observer‘s finding.
“ICE is acting as a propaganda machine for the Trump administration,” Austin City Council Member Greg Casar told the Observer. “This isn’t just about ICE not compiling their data; it’s one more piece of evidence that ICE is purposely misleading the public to exercise Trump’s agenda of criminalizing and deporting immigrants.”