‘State of alarm’: Major cities prepare for ICE raids, more family separations

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Republican leader Kevin McCarthy clashed Thursday over a planned nationwide immigration enforcement operation expected to begin this weekend targeting people who are in the United States illegally. (July 11) AP, AP

DENVER – Fear and anxiety spread through immigrant communities nationwide over anticipated federal raids aimed at detaining and deporting thousands of people accused of remaining illegally within the United States.

Immigration reform advocates said they communities around Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, and San Francisco were being targeted by raids expected to start Sunday and last through at least Thursday.

“It’s almost like getting ready for a hurricane – it’s that state of alarm that people are feeling,” said Melissa Taveras of the Miami-based Florida Immigrant Coalition. “People are asking, ‘Is it OK for us to go work? Is it OK to take our kids to school?’”

The raids are different from routine Immigration and Customs Enforcement detentions, and advocates for immigrant communities say the raids appear designed to sow terror and discord among the approximately 2,000 families expected to be targeted, especially in light of news reports of some detainees dying in custody.

“It terrorizes the community,” said Milli Atkinson, legal director of the San Francisco Immigrant Legal Defense collaborative in San Francisco. “It’s really going to impact our community to see that happen, because with any detention they’re separating the men and the women and the children.”

The Trump administration argues the nation’s immigration laws have long been ignored, and that tougher enforcement is necessary because Congress has failed to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

"Democrats must change the Loophole & Asylum Laws – but they probably won’t!" Trump tweeted Saturday. "They want Open Borders, which means massive crime and drugs!"

Democrats must change the Loophole & Asylum Laws – but they probably won’t! They want Open Borders, which means massive crime and drugs! https://t.co/IWxH16arMW

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 6, 2019

In Denver, Mayor Michael Hancock said city police officers would avoid helping ICE agents but said city human service workers were on alert to assist any minor children left behind if their parents are arrested.

In many cases, immigrants who lack legal permission to remain in the United States have minor children who are U.S. citizens. That puts officials in liberal cities like Denver or San Francisco in the tough position of opposing the ICE raids themselves but still having to manage the consequences.

"We’re not going to put children in cages or leave them in inhumane conditions," Hancock said during a call with reporters on Friday morning. "Our job is to help those families as best we can."

Immigrant advocates say many of the people expected to be targeted in the raids have been issued a "final order of removal" but were never told when or where that previous hearing was taking place, and thus never attended.

In Houston, a city of 1.6 million immigrants and more than 500,000 undocumented immigrants, the phone at FIEL Houston, an immigrants’ rights group, has been ringing non-stop and five forums the group organized since the raids’ announcement have been standing-room only, said Cesar Espinosa, FIEL’s executive director.

FILE – In this April 3, 2019, file photo, a couple who did not want to give their names embrace outside CVE Group as a bus from LaSalle Corrections Transport departs the facility in Allen, Texas. Immigrant families and advocates are warning about planned arrests around the country by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

(Photo: Smiley N. Pool, AP)

“There’s a lot of tension in the community right now,” he said.

FIEL created a “rapid-response network,” enlisting around 80 community members throughout the city who will alert the group if and when a raid is happening. The goal is to get to the scene of the raid as it’s happening, document the procedure and advise the targeted immigrants of their rights, Espinosa said. One of their biggest concerns is that undocumented immigrants who are not the target of the raids get swept up in the operations, he said.

“We hope nothing happens,” Espinosa said. “But if something does happen, we’re preparing our community to be ready to react.”

Elsewhere, advocates were preparing fliers and staffing hotlines to alert immigrant communities of their rights, including requiring a judicial warrant to enter a private home. Advocates said ICE agents working routine removal cases usually stake out their targets’ homes and wait for them to leave for work, and that Sunday operations would be highly unusual.

“Sometimes with this administration, there’s so many attacks that [undocumented migrants] feel like there’s no recourse," said Shannon Camacho of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles. "Don’t open your door. Remain silent. They don’t have to offer any information to ICE, and ICE can’t enter their homes unless they have a judicial warrant, signed by a judge. The vast majority of the time, they don’t have those warrants."

In New York City, the New Sanctuary Coalition’s New York branch and the New York Immigration Coalition planned a rally for Friday night, against both the southern border detention camps and the expected ICE raids.

“While maybe the scale of what ICE will be doing this weekend will be more than what they actually do at any one time … the reality is that immigrant communities have been living under this kind of fear for the last two-and-a-half years,” said Anu Joshi, senior director of immigrant rights policy for the New York Immigration Coalition.

The coalition, representing more than 200 member organizations across New York State, has joined with local organizations in “constant” know-your-rights training classes for immigrant communities and other instructional services.

Protesters hold an inflatable doll in the likeness of President Donald Trump outside of the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children, Sunday, June 16, 2019, in Homestead, Florida. A coalition of religious groups and immigrant advocates said they want the Homestead detention center closed. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

(Photo: Lynne Sladky, AP)

“It’s not just during the raids that people need to know their rights,” said Joshi. “For the last two-and-a-half years ICE has been indiscriminately going in and targeting people.”

Many large U.S. cities, including Los Angeles, Denver, Seattle and Miami, have declared themselves "sanctuaries" for undocumented immigrants, and adopted policies barring local government workers from cooperating with federal immigration authorities. Federal raids risk severing the carefully built bonds between local police and immigrant communities, Hancock said, making it less likely that undocumented immigrants would ask for help or testify in court against violent criminals.

"No one wants to call the police or call local officials if they know that all of their information is going to be shared with federal agents," said Armando Carmona, a spokesman for the Central American Resource Center and other Los Angeles-area Latinx advocacy organizations. "Many households where undocumented folks live are mixed status, so it’s a lot more nuanced that just undocumented folks."

Contributing: Rick Jervis in Houston, Elizabeth Weise in San Francisco, Kevin McCoy in New York City, Jared Weber in Los Angeles and Alan Gomez in Miami.

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