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ICE singles out 'sanctuary cities' after Laken Riley's killing as they announce separate migrant arrests

Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested 216 noncitizens who faced criminal charges and convictions as part of the agency's latest nationwide operation, officials said on Thursday as they also singled out what are known as "sanctuary cities" in the wake of a Georgia college student's killing.

Over a period of 12 days earlier this month, agents across the country moved in on the at-large immigration offenders, ICE officials said at a news conference.

The operation was part of the ICE mission to target those in the country illegally who pose a risk to public safety, officials said.

All 216 arrested migrants have connections to drug crimes, according to ICE's allegations, and nearly half of those arrested had been previously deported.

MORE: University of Georgia murder sparks finger-pointing over immigration

PHOTO: An officer with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Dallas, Texas. (Charles Reed/ICE)
PHOTO: An officer with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Dallas, Texas. (Charles Reed/ICE)

"We're on a mission to protect the American public by containing and removing people who contribute to this horrible drug crisis," Acting ICE Director Patrick J. Lechleitner told reporters.

The operation also highlighted a divide between the goals of federal and local law enforcement agencies. As a federal agency, ICE is responsible for enforcing the nation's immigration law -- local law enforcement is not.

As a result, ICE officials said, some convicted criminals who are migrants -- such as those caught in the operation this month -- have previously been set free by local authorities despite being eligible for deportation.

"And to be frank -- in some areas -- there are laws that affect the ability for state and local law enforcement to cooperate with ICE," Lechleitner said. "So we're trying to make progress in areas that are a little less ICE friendly."

PHOTO: An ICE agent monitors asylum seekers being processed upon entering the Jacob K. Javits Federal Building, June 6, 2023, in New York City.  (David Dee Delgado/Getty Images)
PHOTO: An ICE agent monitors asylum seekers being processed upon entering the Jacob K. Javits Federal Building, June 6, 2023, in New York City. (David Dee Delgado/Getty Images)

Those municipalities, commonly referred to as "sanctuary cities," restrict communication between local law enforcement and ICE because of what migrant and some civil liberties' advocates say is a concern about the abuse of federal deportation and enforcement policies.

The issue came to a head last month when Venezuelan national Jose Antonio Ibarra was arrested on murder charges in the killing of 22-year-old nursing student Laken Riley at the University of Georgia. Ibarra has not yet entered a plea.

MORE: FBI director says agency doing all it can to get 'justice' for Laken Riley

Ibarra entered the U.S. illegally and had been previously arrested on suspicion of an unrelated crime but was subsequently released before ICE could move to deport him, ICE has said.

"I can't speak to individual jurisdictions that do this," Lechleitner said on Thursday, referring to sanctuary cities. "All we want to say is that we want to talk to them and we want to try and work through on any way we can cooperate with our law enforcement partners."

As part of the agency's latest investigative work tied to the March operation, officials identified more than 400 noncitizens who are subject to arrest.

ICE singles out 'sanctuary cities' after Laken Riley's killing as they announce separate migrant arrests originally appeared on abcnews.go.com