Trump’s threatened ICE raids could hearten his base, and terrify immigrants


When unconfirmed reports surfaced this week that the Trump administration had resurrected threats of nationwide immigration raids expected to launch Sunday, Roberto Suro, a public policy professor at USC, homed in on the number of targeted apprehensions: an estimated 2,000.

Currently, there are about 1 million immigrants with final removal orders.

He did the math: Apprehensions would amount to a bit more than 0.2% of those facing deportation.


But the relatively small number of apprehensions doesn’t matter, Suro said. It’s the perception that counts.

“It’s purely psychological,” he said. “This is yet one more example of how the Trump administration is trying to use fear as an instrument of immigration control. It generates a lot of fear and anxiety but not a lot of control. This has nothing to do with actual enforcement.”

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Suro and other longtime immigration analysts believe that the apprehensions resulting from the anticipated raids will probably be a statistical drop in the bucket but that the frenzy leading up to it sends a powerful message to two groups.

“One audience is supposed to feel like something is happening,” Suro said, “and the other is supposed to be scared to death.”

On Friday, President Trump confirmed to White House reporters what he called a “major operation” starting Sunday.

“Nothing to be secret about,” Trump said before leaving for a fundraising trip. “It starts on Sunday, and they’re going to take people out and they’re going to bring them back to their countries. Or they’re going to take criminals out, put them in prison, or put them in prison in the countries they came from.”

Trump didn’t comment on how many people might be affected.

An Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman wouldn’t give many details.

“Due to law-enforcement sensitivities and the safety and security of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement personnel, the agency will not offer specific details related to enforcement operations,” a statement read.

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The threat of raids has had a dramatic impact. In Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti, Police Chief Michel Moore, Sheriff Alex Villanueva and other leaders have denounced the tactic. Across the country, some immigrants reportedly are skipping work and hiding out, a team of immigration lawyers is descending on a detention facility in Texas, activists are manning tip hotlines that are ringing off the hook in Tennessee, and a group of advocates launched a preemptive lawsuit in New York.

While some immigration apprehensions may be the immediate mission, there are broader political goals that are accomplished with the specter of widespread immigration raids. Some immigration analysts said the Trump administration is likely hoping to distract the president’s base from what he has failed to accomplish: the expansion of a southern border “wall” and getting a citizenship question on the U.S. census.

Despite his aggressive rhetoric, Trump’s overall removal numbers during his first two years in office pale in comparison with those of the previous administration. Trump’s administration is on track to remove only about 8% more foreigners in fiscal year 2019 than President Obama’s last year in office, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement data.

During the height of deportations under Obama in 2012, immigration officials removed 409,849 foreigners. By comparison, peak removals under Trump came last year, with 256,085.

This week’s threats came less than a month after Trump announced in a June 17 tweet that ICE would start deporting “millions” of migrants. Days later, that operation was put on hold. This time, some experts and activists said they believe the raids will move forward.

Louis DeSipio, a political science professor at UC Irvine, said it’s difficult to know whether the planned raids actually will happen this time. If they don’t, it may backfire on Trump.

“The president is skilled in the art of distraction,” he said. “But there is a cost in that each time he cancels it, he disrupts his relationship with ICE because they have to put a lot of effort into preparing for these things.”

DeSipio said that announcing raids in advance only increases fear in immigrant communities and puts ICE agents and local law enforcement at risk.

“Police want to do things stealthily and get them over with before people are paying attention,” he said. “So announcing any activity like this is lunacy.”

Robin Hvidston, executive director of a Claremont-based group in support of immigration enforcement called We the People Rising, said she believes Trump has had to overcome many obstacles — such as court obstructions and some fellow Republicans — to institute greater immigration enforcement. Still, she said, she’ll be disappointed if the administration stalls any further.

“I am disappointed that he has not been more effective,” she said. “For example, in stopping the Central Americans who have been coming across the border. It’s actually pretty shocking it’s happening on his watch with his stance.”

The raids, which could roll out over an extended period, are expected to take place in at least 10 cities. While the operation will target a couple thousand people with court removal orders, it will also include “collateral” deportations in which agents may detain immigrants without legal status who are not intended targets but happen to be in the area.

The raids are expected to target not only families but also children who arrived at the border without adults, were released to parents or other sponsors and ordered deported, said Greg Chen, director of government relations at the Washington-based American Immigration Lawyers Assn.

Families picked up during the raids will probably be taken to one of two ICE family detention centers in central Pennsylvania and south Texas, Chen said. The ICE detention center in Berks, Pa., has space for 96 migrant family members with 32 beds occupied this week, according to ICE. The detention center in Dilley, Texas, has room for up to 2,500 and this week housed 303.

There’s an immigration court trailer at the Dilley detention center where judges hear cases via videoconference, and Chen’s group has a team of pro bono lawyers on site to represent families.

“We are preparing for a large influx at that location,” he said.

Thursday, immigrant rights organizers said they were preparing for roundups. A preemptive lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union aims to protect asylum seekers who fled violence in Central America. Lawyers argue that the government is thwarting constitutional due process by deporting people without a hearing because they failed to show up in immigration court. Lawyers pointed to documented bureaucratic errors, including repeated instances in which notices to appear in court were sent to incorrect addresses or issued for incorrect dates.

In other parts of the country, some migrants were methodically preparing for the raids as they would for a natural disaster.

A Nicaraguan migrant with a pending deportation order in Miami prepared for the ICE raids by posting signs around her house this week warning family members not to open the door and stocking up on food so she can remain inside all weekend.

“She said, ‘I feel like a hurricane is coming,’” said the woman’s friend, Maria Bilbao, a Florida organizer for the migrant advocacy group United We Dream.

This week, the woman was watchful every time she left home, Bilbao said.

“When she goes to work, the first to go out is her daughter, who has papers,” she said.

Bilbao, a native of Argentina who became a legal resident last year after living in the U.S. illegally for years, has been canvassing migrant neighborhoods this week, including Miami’s Little Havana.

“We were talking to people who said they were OK, their status was fine, but they had people in their family who were undocumented, even in their house,” she said. “People are very worried, and we are letting people know they don’t need to open their doors.”

In California, advocates said they hadn’t received calls from panicked immigrants. But Hamid Yazdan Panah, advocacy director of the California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice in San Francisco, said he heard of people in the last few weeks, after the previously announced raids, who skipped medical appointments, paid others to do their grocery shopping and didn’t take their kids to school.

“These things have very serious long-term impact,” he said. “Putting people through this process over and over again, it’ll break people. The idea that this is going to force people to self-deport, it could be legitimate, because you can’t live a life like that.”

Apolonio Morales, political director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, said it’s important to be wary of the possibility that periodic, commonplace immigration sweeps are being passed off as “a larger spectacle.” CHIRLA and advocates in Northern California said they’d been alerted about a few people arrested by ICE agents in the last week.

“These operations take weeks and months to put together,” he said. “You don’t have enough agents out in the field to provide that level of investigation.”

Morales said large-scale raids haven’t happened in California since 2006, when immigration agents stormed six meatpacking plants across the country and detained 1,300 people.

Since then, California has distanced itself from federal immigration enforcement in ways that he said would make big raids difficult to repeat.

The expected raids will probably result in relatively small numbers and be geographically limited because many local law enforcement agencies are no longer cooperating in the same way that they did under Obama, said USC’s Suro.

Local law enforcement agencies in many major metro areas around the country have publicly announced they won’t be participating in immigration sweeps.

In an interview with The Times, LAPD Chief Moore said the department has contacted immigrants and advocates across Los Angeles to reiterate that city officers are not participating in the sweeps. While federal officials continue to conduct routine enforcement in the city, the LAPD does not and will not participate in the enforcement of civil administrative law, Moore said.

“Our posture remains the same,” Moore told The Times. “We’re not involved in any fashion or form. This is separate and apart” from the Los Angeles police.

Some municipalities have taken a tough stance against the raids.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, president of the National Conference of Democratic Mayors, said he has been talking to mayors of the other nine cities where ICE raids are expected this weekend.

“We know that the administration and ICE are calling cities’ departments of human services and asking for their assistance because they know this is going to result in the separation of families,” Hancock said during a Friday phone briefing.

He said that ICE had not asked Denver officials for help and that they will not assist with the raids, but afterward, they “will be prepared to assist children.” He condemned the raids as “despicable acts.”

When Ana Ramirez Zarate got wind of news reports this week that the Trump administration had resurrected threats of nationwide raids, she couldn’t help but feel tired.

“Oh no,” she said to herself. “Not again!”

The 24-year-old immigrant rights organizer who coordinates the Orange County Rapid Response Network braced for an avalanche of phone calls from worried immigrants from across the county.

“It’s really tiring, to be honest,” Ramirez said, “to hear the same rhetoric and same crisis created in our community.”

Morales, of CHIRLA, said his group and others are as prepared as possible. And while deportations continue to happen, he said, “we don’t benefit when people are scared out of their minds.”

“What more can Trump do that we haven’t already seen?” Morales said. “The bogeyman component to all of this, it becomes lessened. Are we watching a spectacle or are we actually seeing a crisis? We’ll know after this weekend.”

Times staff writers Molly O’Toole, Brittny Mejia, Molly Hennessey-Fiske and Mark Puente contributed to this report.

Follow Cindy Carcamo on Twitter @thecindycarcamo