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NEW YORK (AP) — A daughter who never returned home, a son gunned down point-blank, a mom who was brutally attacked — all deaths at the hands of immigrants in the country illegally, all gripping stories the White House has been eager to share.

But for all the talk of murderers, rapists and other “bad hombres,” those netted in President Donald Trump’s crackdown on immigration are typically accused of lesser offenses, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents are increasingly apprehending those with no criminal records at all.

“Unshackling ICE has really allowed it to go after more individuals,” said Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst with the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute who calls the apprehension of noncriminal immigrants, in particular, “a defining characteristic of this administration’s approach to immigration.”

The case of Mollie Tibbetts — a 20-year-old Iowa college student authorities say was killed by a man living in the U.S. illegally — is among the latest used by Trump to advance his argument for stricter immigration controls. Yet the government’s own statistics show such cases are far more likely to be the exception than the rule.

ICE arrests of noncriminals increased 66 percent in the first nine months of the 2018 fiscal year over the same period a year earlier. Arrests of convicts, meantime, rose nearly 2 percent. More noncriminals have also been deported. Among those expelled from the U.S. interior in fiscal 2017, there was a 174 percent increase from the previous year of those with no criminal convictions. Deportations of those with convictions rose nearly 13 percent over the same period.

The result is immigration courts are filling with defendants like Ruben Moroyoqui, a 45-year-old mechanic in Tucson, Arizona, whose only run-in with police came last year, his attorney said, when he was pulled over while picking up auto parts.

First, the officer asked for his license. His second question, Moroyoqui said, was “Are you here legally?” He wasn’t cited for any driving violation; he was simply handed over to ICE, which began proceedings to deport him to Mexico. An appeal is pending.

Moroyoqui entered the country with authorization 16 years ago but then overstayed his visa, not wanting to return home because of the lack of opportunity there. He has four U.S. citizen children and said he has always paid his taxes. “I feel great respect and love for this country,” he said.

ICE has heralded its deportations of drug kingpins, violent gang members and others accused of serious offenses, and in the 2017 fiscal year, it reported that 56 percent of all deportees it processed — from the interior U.S. and border — had been convicted of crimes. But under Trump, as with prior administrations, when a deportee does have a criminal record, it’s generally for lesser infractions.

Among more than 220,000 deportees in the 2017 fiscal year, 79,270 had no convictions, according to ICE data housed by the Transactional Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University. Of those with a record, according to the data, 1 in 4 had illegal entry or re-entry to the U.S. as their most serious offenses. Those two counts represented the first- and third-most common charges among deportees. Driving under the influence was second, followed by assault convictions and traffic offenses. Drug trafficking, burglary, domestic violence, larceny and selling marijuana rounded out the top 10 offenses.

The rest of those with a record were convicted of a wide range of misdeeds, both grave crimes like kidnapping and minor offenses including taking a joy ride, gambling or violating a fish conservation statute.

For Ariel Vences-Lopez, the charge that led him to deportation proceedings was an accusation of riding the light rail in Minneapolis last year without a ticket. After asking whether Vences-Lopez was in the country illegally, a transit officer used a Taser on him and arrested him on suspicion of fare evasion before turning him over to ICE. The charges were later dropped, but the 25-year-old roofer is still fighting his deportation back to Mexico. Proceedings have been put off until 2019.

Adriana Cerrillo, an immigrant advocate who took part in protests over the case and who has befriended Vences-Lopez, said the public should know how seldom those deported are actually accused of violent crimes.

“My mother’s not a criminal. My sister’s not a criminal,” she said. She questions how many so-called “bad hombres” — a term Trump has used — are actually in the U.S. and urges Americans to think critically about the message being promulgated. “How do we say ‘brainwashing’ in a different term?”

Daniel Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which supports restrictive immigration measures, said focusing solely on whether those in the country illegally have committed a serious crime ignores the law and that those residents should be deported regardless of whether they have a rap sheet. His group supports restrictive immigration measures.

“Who decided that the policy of the United States was that anybody could come into the country regardless of the law as long as you didn’t commit a violent felony?” he asked.

Stein said many in the country illegally likely have committed crimes — including securing employment by fraudulent means — but haven’t been caught yet. Ignoring that fact, he said, makes a mockery of immigration laws and encourages more people to break them.

Luis Alberto Enamorado Gomez, who left Honduras for the U.S. in 2005, was charged with a DUI in 2012 and ordered deported the following year, but because his case was considered a low priority under the administration of President Barack Obama, he never was forced to leave. That was common in the final two years of Obama’s presidency, when ICE was directed to exercise discretion to defer action on certain migrants with standing removal orders, including those with citizen children and living in the U.S. prior to 2010.

That ended under Trump, and with new marching orders to prioritize any and all immigration cases, ICE followed up earlier this year and took Gomez into custody. He was held for about six weeks and is now fighting his deportation. The 31-year-old from Grandview, Missouri, said he fears what his removal would mean for his seven children, all U.S. citizens for whom he is the sole provider.

“How are we criminals when we just come here and work and provide for our families?” he asked.

With a spotlight on the separation of immigrant children and their parents this summer, Trump tried to refocus attention on dangerous immigrants by hosting a White House event with relatives of those killed by people in the country illegally. “These are the American citizens that are permanently separated from their loved ones,” Trump said. “These are the stories that Democrats and the people that are weak on immigration, they don’t want to discuss.”

And yet the most serious crimes, such as murder and rape, are relatively rare among deportees. Studies also have found immigrants to the U.S. have a lower level of criminality than citizens.

Some local law enforcement agencies partner with ICE and immediately alert the agency if an immigrant in the country illegally comes in contact with an officer — whether because they committed a crime or were a victim of one. Even without such cooperation, ICE can send its officers to courthouses when immigrants are scheduled to appear to apprehend them for deportation.

That’s what happened to Nefi Rodas, a 34-year-old construction worker in Worcester, Massachusetts, who paid a smuggler to escape Guatemala in 2003. After he was cited last year for suspicion of driving under the influence, he went to court for a pre-arraignment appearance. ICE agents were waiting outside the building.

“We don’t even know what to do as immigration attorneys,” said Cindy Burke, who represents Rodas. “You have to show up to state court, but there’s a good chance ICE is going to be waiting for you.”

Because Rodas never made it to his hearing, a warrant was issued for his arrest, complicating his drunken driving case. He spent nearly four months in ICE custody, but deportation proceedings ended after a judge found that sending Rodas back to Guatemala would have caused undue hardship on his special-needs daughter. He is now a legal permanent resident of the U.S.

“One person does something, and it’s as if we all have done it,” he said of the inclination of some Americans to brand all without legal status as violent criminals. “I haven’t murdered anybody. I haven’t violated anybody.”

The share of deportees not convicted of a crime was higher at the end of George W. Bush’s presidency, when two-thirds had no record, according to ICE data. Total deportations reached a peak in the early years of the Obama administration — but the share of those people without a criminal record fell. Overall, when examining deportations of both those caught at the border and living within the country, the percentage of those with no conviction has increased slightly under Trump compared to Obama. But with increased arrests of immigrants already living in the U.S., experts expect the numbers to continue rising.

“We see ICE doing things that allows them to get the low-hanging fruit, so to speak, the easy enforcement,” said Pierce, referring to arrests at ICE-mandated office check-ins, for example.

Melissa Aispuro, 20, of Tucson, Arizona, is another with no record to find herself in deportation proceedings. Aispuro has lived most of her life in the U.S. She was brought as a child and returned to Mexico for a time after high school before coming back in 2016. She entered legally with a border crossing card, but overstayed.

When her car was struck by another motorist last October, she didn’t think anything of calling police. She hadn’t even considered they would call ICE on someone with no criminal record who had just been in an accident.

“It’s like really sad because not all of us are criminals. Some just come here for education, for a better life,” said Aispuro, who is married to a U.S. citizen and fighting her deportation. “You can think whatever you want, but in my heart I know what I am.”
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AP National Writer Allen G. Breed contributed reporting from Greensboro, North Carolina.
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Sedensky can be reached at msedensky@ap.org or https://twitter.com/sedensky

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — A beaming South Korean President Moon Jae-in returned home from a whirlwind three-day summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Thursday saying that Kim wants the U.S. secretary of state to visit Pyongyang soon for nuclear talks, and also hopes for a quick follow-up to his June summit with Donald Trump.

Moon told reporters in Seoul that he will carry a private message from Kim for Trump on the nuclear standoff when he meets with the U.S. president in New York next week on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly session.

Both Trump, who has repeatedly spoken of his good relationship with Kim, and the North Korean leader have expressed a desire to meet again, but there are worries among observers about whether Kim is as committed to denuclearization as he claims. Moon faces increasing pressure from Washington to find a path forward in efforts to get Kim to completely — and unilaterally — abandon his nuclear arsenal.

“There are things that the United States wants us to convey to North Korea, and on the other side there are also things that North Korea wants us to convey to the United States,” Moon said at a press center in Seoul where reporters watched parts of his summit with Kim on video huge screens that occasionally showed live streams from Pyongyang. “I will faithfully serve that role when I meet President Trump to facilitate dialogue between North Korea and the United States.”

Moon, who set up the June summit in Singapore between Trump and Kim and is eager for another to happen, also told reporters that he’ll convey to Trump his and Kim’s desire to get a declaration on ending the Korean War by the end of this year. The war still technically continues because it ended with a cease-fire, not a peace treaty. Such a declaration would be the first step toward a formal peace treaty, but many in the United States are worried that it could result in Kim pushing for the removal of U.S. troops stationed in South Korea to deter the North.

Earlier Thursday, Kim and Moon took to the road for the final day of their summit, hiking to the peak of Mount Paektu, which is considered sacred in the North, their hands clasped and raised in a pose of triumph. Their trip to the mountain on the North Korean-Chinese border, and the striking photo-op that will resonate in both Koreas, followed a day of wide-ranging agreements on Wednesday they trumpeted as a major step toward peace.

However, their premier accord on the issue that most worries the world — the North’s pursuit of nuclear-tipped missiles capable of striking as far as the U.S. mainland — contained a big condition: Kim stated that he would permanently dismantle North Korea’s main nuclear facility only if the United States takes unspecified corresponding measures.

Photos showed the leaders smiling broadly as they posed at the summit of Paektu, their wives grinning at their sides, a brilliant blue sky and the deep crater lake that tops the volcano in the background. They also toured the shores of the lake, and Moon and his wife filled bottles with its water. Members of the Kim family are referred to as sharing the “Paektu bloodline,” and the volcano is emblazoned on North Korea’s national emblem and lends its name to everything from rockets to power stations.

Many South Koreans also feel drawn to the volcano, which, according to Korean mythology, was the birthplace of Dangun, the founder of the first ancient Korean kingdom, and has long been considered one of the most beautiful places on the peninsula. Not everyone was pleased, though. About 100 anti-North Korea protesters rallied in central Seoul to express anger about the summit and displayed slogans that read, “No to SK-NK summit that benefits Kim Jong Un.”

The leaders are basking in the glow of the joint statement they signed Wednesday. Compared to the vague language of their two earlier summits, Kim and Moon seem to have agreed on an ambitious program meant to tackle soaring tensions that caused many to fear war last year as the North tested a string of increasingly powerful weapons.

Kim promised to accept international inspectors to monitor the closing of a key missile test site and launch pad and to visit Seoul soon, and both leaders vowed to work together to try to host the Summer Olympics in 2032.

But while containing several tantalizing offers, their joint statement appeared to fall short of the major steps many in Washington have been looking for — such as a commitment by Kim to provide a list of North Korea’s nuclear facilities, a solid step-by-step timeline for closing them down, or an agreement to allow international inspectors to assess progress or discover violations.

It also was unclear what “corresponding steps” North Korea wants from the U.S. to dismantle its nuclear site.

The question is whether it will be enough for Trump to pick up where Moon has left off. Trump told reporters Wednesday that the outcome of the summit was “very good news” and that “we’re making tremendous progress” with North Korea. He didn’t indicate in his brief remarks whether the U.S. would be willing to take further steps to encourage North Korean action on denuclearization.

“We have agreed to make the Korean Peninsula a land of peace that is free from nuclear weapons and nuclear threat,” Kim said Wednesday as the two leaders announced their agreement. “The road to our future will not always be smooth and we may face challenges and trials we can’t anticipate. But we aren’t afraid of headwinds because our strength will grow as we overcome each trial based on the strength of our nation.”

Moon urged unity for all Koreans in a speech he gave Wednesday night to the crowd gathered for North Korea’s signature mass games. “I now propose that we completely eliminate the hostility of the past 70 years and take a big step forward in peace so that we can become one again.”

According to a statement signed by the countries’ defense chiefs, the two Koreas agreed to establish buffer zones along their land and sea borders to reduce military tensions and prevent accidental clashes. They also agreed to withdraw 11 guard posts from the Demilitarized Zone by December and to establish a no-fly zone above the military demarcation line that bisects the two Koreas that will apply to planes, helicopters and drones.

Other agreements aimed at removing some longstanding irritants from their relations, such as allowing more contact between families divided by the Korean War. Moon also appeared to be making good on his proposals to help build up the North’s infrastructure and open cross-border rail links.
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Talmadge reported from Pyongyang. Associated Press writers Hyung-jin Kim and Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul contributed to this report.

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