Inside a large tan building in Laguna Nigel, flanked by American flags, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents are hard at work deciding which undocumented immigrants should be targeted for removal from the United States.
A recent study from UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs found one third of LA County residents fear that they or their families will be deported. But, ICE agents say the information that portrays undocumented immigrants as being rounded up in mass numbers and deported is not accurate.
The NBC4 I-Team went inside ICE headquarters to investigate who gets targeted for deportation and why, and discuss the impact of President Trump’s executive order on ICE efforts.
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"Immigration law is incredibly complex so there is a lot of work that goes into making a determination if someone is removable from the country," Brian DeMore, director of ICE’s Pacific Enforcement Response Center, told NBC4.
The PERC coordinates ICE operations in 42 states. The process begins when someone is arrested. Fingerprints from a jail are compared to an immigration database of people who might be in the country illegally. If there is a match, then a detainer can be sent to ask the jail to hold the inmate for ICE but, the jail is not required to hold anyone.
DeMore said agents spend hours analyzing data and prioritizing who gets targeted for removal.
"We take great care in lodging detainers against only those individuals who we can clearly and legally remove from the United States,” he said. “We will always target the people who pose the greatest threats to our communities."
DeMore said ICE agents are not tasked with looking for undocumented people. They are specifically targeting individuals who have committed serious crimes or have multiple offenses.
"In cases where people are released from jail, teams of agents like these will try to track them down," DeMore said.
While there has been an increase in the number of detainers issued since President Trump took office, immigration law has not changed and neither has ICE action regarding immigration detainers. DeMore wants the public to know all this intelligence is focused on people with criminal histories.
"I think if the public saw the individuals who we were lodging detainers on in most cases they would be happy that these individuals were being removed from the country," he said.