Arrests in metro-Savannah part of region-wide ICE operation

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - More than two-dozen people living in the metro-Savannah area without legal permission were rounded up by the Department of Homeland Security this week.

The two-day operation was part of a week-long, region-wide effort where agents arrested approximately 200 unlawfully present foreign nationals all in Georgia, North and South Carolina.

A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman says the raids did not target those living here without legal permission indiscriminately.

In part of the statement released Friday, the spokesman says:

Every day, as part of routine targeted enforcement operations, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Fugitive Operations teams arrest criminal aliens and other individuals who are in violation of our nation's immigration laws…

Most of those who were arrested in the Savannah area are convicted criminals, according to officials.

The fact that all aren't is cause for concern for some I've talked to Friday, including a local immigration lawyer and several non-profit groups.

ICE says they will be able to tell us the background of the non-convict arrests, as well as the spectrum of crimes committed by those arrested, by Monday. An ICE representative adds the charges include murder, battery and DUI.

In the meantime, local groups like the Metropolitan Savannah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce are trying to find ways to help those either left behind following raids, like children, or those approached by immigration agents.

"We just want to make sure that immigrants know what their rights are, and that as best we can, make their lives as good. You're talking about children, you're talking about parents, you're talking about family members that in some cases have been here pretty much their whole lives," said La Voz Latina Editor, John Newton.

The director of Catholic Charities of South Georgia is well aware of the recent raids, and in light of changing national policy regarding immigration, says the Catholic Church is making more resources available for immigrant families in our community.

"We're very, very concerned about people who have invested in our community, and the parishes are now providing workshops. We have attorneys who are going to help with workshops. We have given them information about GLAHR, which is the Georgia Legal Assistance for Human Rights program, and the Latin American Association, and local attorneys who are willing to listen to their cases and see what can be done," said Catholic Charities of South Georgia Director Sister Pat Brown.

A sanctuary city or state is a place that has policies designed to not prosecute those living in the in the United States without legal permission.

There are four states that are considered sanctuaries: California, Colorado, Connecticut, and New Mexico. In Georgia, only Clayton County follows these policies and South Carolina does not have any.

WTOC has learned an immigration lawyer retained by several families of those arrested in the round-up locally is headed to the Irwin County Detention Center this weekend, where those arrested locally are being held.

We'll continue to follow this story for you as it develops.

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