Advocates for undocumented immigrants are voicing concern about what appears to be a clear change in policy by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.

Federal data obtained by WNYC shows 44 percent of 1,395 immigrants arrested during the first five months of this year had no criminal convictions, compared to 24 percent during the same time period last year.

When asked for comment on what exactly is happening, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials declined to be interviewed, but a spokesman for ICE, Luis Martinez, said in an emailed statement that ICE "continues to focus its enforcement resources on individuals who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security.”

The statement also says “ICE conducts targeted immigration enforcement in compliance with federal law and agency policy.”

Immigration advocates disagree.

“People who are most of the time arrested on the streets and swept from their homes, they are working families,” said Chia-Chia Wang, the organizing and advocacy director of the American Friends Service Committee in Newark.

“I don’t see any of these individuals posing any kind of public or national security threats to our community.”

She said this kind of policy creates anxiety and uncertainty.

“You don’t know how they will come after you and these families constantly live in fear,” she said.

Wang noted most immigrants assume all official parts of local, county and state governments work together, “so I think that really creates unnecessary fear among these families, especially parents taking their children to school or seeking basic services.”

Johanna Calle, the program coordinator for the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, said this rhetoric is unproductive and potentially dangerous.

She pointed out if immigrants are afraid they’re going to arrested at the drop of a hat, they will be “less likely to come to police, report crimes, be witnesses of crimes or cooperate with police to keep their communities safe.”

She said ICE seems to be suggesting that if you’re undocumented you must be a criminal.

“They’re taking the position that if you are without documentation and therefore a criminal you deserve to be picked up and put in jail and apprehended as if you are some sort of menace to society.”

She stressed this kind of policy doesn’t make sense.

“You’re looking for people who are not posing any real threat, who are actually in many cases contributing to our communities a lot more than we would think. Many of our small business owners are immigrants themselves.”

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com

Also on WOBM: