HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: Shortly after President Trump took office, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE, began arresting hundreds of immigrants in very visible raids across the United States. But as internal ICE documents obtained first by The Washington Post show, half of those detained had either no criminal record or traffic convictions.
Joining me now from Washington to discuss this is one the reporters who broke this story, Maria Sacchetti.
You have a set of data that is around Operation Crosscheck, which is one of the things that we all heard about. How — what did the data reveal and how does that work with all of the larger roundups that have been happening?
MARIA SACCHETTI, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, the data offered the first look at a breakdown of the immigration raid that occurred right after President Trump took office. And the way ICE classified it is traffic offenses, but we asked for more information. And they said that more than 90 percent of those offenses were drunk driving offenses.
SREENIVASAN: I don’t want to minimize drunk driving as not a serious offense, but what about the criminals like the murderers, and rapists and so forth that the presidet said that that was the focus, that’s who he wanted to go after?
SACCHETTI: Exactly. And we know there are hundreds of those folks out there that — who have been released, who were released under the Obama administration. And Trump very clearly made that a priority. He said he would — what happened under the Obama administration would not happen under his administration. And we just — we just haven’t seen that.
SREENIVASAN: And so, what is the difference between what’s been happening and what was on the books in terms of regulations or restrictions that the Obama administration had put on ICE enforcement and how they should prioritize who to round up and deport?
SACCHETTI: Well, the Obama administration, and we’ve reported this, deported a lot of people who had never committed a crime, got a lot of criticism for doing that and over time, the Obama administration issued memos that sought to curtail exactly the types of folks immigration officials could arrest and deport. And in 2014, late 2014, late 2014, that really took affect. You can see the number of non-criminals, and overall, deportations going down the last couple of years of his administration.
SREENIVASAN: Is there a chilling effect in the terms — in terms of people that are coming forward, say whistle-blowers or witnesses to crimes or maybe even victims for fear that that they will be deported in the process?
SACCHETTI: Well, at least two cities, Los Angeles and Houston have reported that they are seeing fewer crimes, particularly sexual assaults and other crimes being reported by Latinos. So, that — that’s a big question. And the Obama — I mean, pardon me, the Trump administration has said that the victims or witnesses, you know, could be picked up. They said they’re not their priority, that there are still protections in place for them, but if they’re lawbreakers or they’ve had an issue in the past, you know, victims and witnesses could also be detained.
SREENIVASAN: So, there’s kind of two steps to this. There is the detention part and there’s the deportation part. Is everybody who’s getting detained getting deported? I mean, are the countries agreeing to take them back?
SACCHETTI: Right. So, one really important detail here is the difference between immigration system and the criminal system, in the criminal system we know who gets arrested. You know, when someone is arrested, almost the next thing you see is their name and you get a little bit of background about them.
The immigration system has not worked that way. We don’t know who is getting arrested. We can’t look at their files. You can’t read the reports and the charges against them, even though they’re civil (ph) charges. They are often held in the same types of jails as criminals. But there’s very little public accountability in the immigration system.
SREENIVASAN: All right. Maria Sacchetti of The Washington Post — thanks so much.