KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
Federal immigration authorities continue to carry out raids on Monday. Since last week, they say they have picked up 680 people who are in the country illegally. Officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, have said the agency routinely does these enforcement surges, but immigration advocates say the Trump administration is casting a much wider net than President Obama did.
NPR's John Burnett has been monitoring the situation in Austin, Texas, where dozens of immigrants had been detained for deportation. He's with us now. Hi, John.
JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: Hi, Kelly.
MCEVERS: So tell us. What's the latest from where you are?
BURNETT: Well, we hear that the targeted enforcement operation is still ongoing, though the numbers seem to be decreasing. Austin is one of those cities in the 11 states where this is happening. Locally, there have been 60 to 70 unauthorized immigrants picked up here in the last four days - about 50 Mexicans, maybe 10 Central Americans according to my sources.
And again, they're targeted individuals. They're people who are in the country illegally. These are not indiscriminate sweeps, as we're hearing on Twitter and elsewhere. But it still caused tons of fear and panic in this big unauthorized immigrant community here in central Texas. Two examples I heard about - a big pulga, the flea market here in town, was deserted yesterday. Soccer field usually filled with Latino men was also empty over the weekend - so lots of fear.
MCEVERS: This afternoon, we got a new statement from the current homeland security secretary, John Kelly, and he is defending these roundups. What did he say?
BURNETT: He is. The latest we have - he said that they have rounded up more than 680 targeted individuals who pose public safety threats, such as convicted criminal aliens and gang members. He goes on to say that of those arrested, approximately 75 percent were criminal aliens convicted of crimes including but not limited to homicide, aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault of a minor, drug trafficking, assault and battery, DUIs and weapons charges.
But this is important - Secretary Kelly says they're also arresting individuals who have violated our nation's immigration laws. And this seems to open up the pool of deportables to all 11 million people who are in the country illegally.
MCEVERS: President Trump said again today that the crackdown is in keeping with his campaign promise to get criminals out of the country. Is that who ICE is rounding up?
BURNETT: ICE seems to be saying that most of these are felons, but the Mexican consul in Austin, Carlos Gonzalez, told the public radio program the Texas Standard this morning his office has been interviewing all these Mexican nationals in the ICE detention center here in downtown Austin. He says that a majority of the 53 Mexican nationals that have been picked up by ICE have no criminal charges. Granted, this is just one American city, but here's some tape from the consul earlier today.
CARLOS GONZALEZ GUTIERREZ: In many cases, yes, there are specific targets by - for ICE for different reasons. But there's many others that are caught because they are in the wrong time and the wrong place. Sometimes they detain someone in his vehicle. And he has a couple of passengers there, and they are undocumented. They end up being detained as well.
MCEVERS: ICE says these detentions are not news. Is this different than what happened under President Obama?
BURNETT: The immigrant advocates that I've heard from are adamant that this is a dramatic difference. They - certainly not to say that Obama was easy on unauthorized immigrants. His administration was very aggressive. Between 2009 and 2015, they removed more than 2 and a half million. But Obama's Homeland Security Secretary, Jeh Johnson, had very different deportation priorities. They only focused on recently arrived immigrants and those who'd committed very serious, violent crimes.
From my own reporting, in October, I was in Buffalo, N.Y. We were investigating a raid on five Mexican restaurants where ICE agents had rounded up all of the employees who were undocumented, and they let a dozen of them go. They were working in the country illegally, but they'd not been charged with any crimes. And so that was not a deportation priority.
So what we're seeing now under this new administration - it seems to be a widening. We should add that the president and his immigration officials have the power to deport anybody who's in the country illegally, whether they've committed a crime or not.
MCEVERS: We're talking about people being detained. Are they actually being deported?
BURNETT: They are. And we're hearing that people are being bused directly from Austin and Los Angeles - just two cities - directly to the Mexican border after these ICE sweeps.
MCEVERS: That's NPR's John Burnett. Thank you very much.
BURNETT: Thanks, Kelly. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.