With a new round of ICE raids set to begin Sunday, hundreds protested in Southern California and immigrants targeted by the Trump crackdown braced for the federal action.
Many elements of the raid still remain unclear, including exactly how many are being targeted and how much the new action will be different from regular ICE activities.
“We are receiving calls from migrants that are very scared,” said Hugo Castro with Border Angels, a migrant rights group. “They are canceling their plans for the weekend. For example, we talked to one family who was planning to move this weekend and now they are afraid to move with this going on.”
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.
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.
ICE officials in New Orleans have announced that they were suspending immigration enforcement this weekend in areas of southern Louisiana and coastal Mississippi where Tropical Storm Barry was expected to make landfall early Saturday.
But migrant advocates called on ICE to suspend the raids in surrounding states so that migrants felt safe evacuating.
Some migrant families directly in the storm’s path said they were too scared to evacuate. Balbina, 34, a Mexican immigrant who asked to be identified only by first name, has been living south of New Orleans illegally for 12 years.
She and her husband, a boat builder, have three children, ages 14, 10 and 5.
The two youngest are U.S. citizens. A voluntary evacuation was issued for their town, Houma, but Balbina’s family is staying in their mobile home, and she knows about 35 other immigrants who are also afraid to leave because of the ICE raids.
“I worry for my kids. I can try to protect them, but it’s a risk. If we go, we don’t know if we can return,” she said by phone from her home.There’s a 10 p.m. curfew in Houma, she said, but for migrants, “It’s like a curfew all the time.”
Across the country, migrant advocates were monitoring hotlines and social media for reports that the raids had started and organizing teams to respond.
FIEL Houston had a team of 80 volunteers ready to deploy this weekend, some of whom responded to rumors of raids early Saturday that proved unfounded, according to Cesar Espinosa, the group’s executive director.
“The intention is to be there for people and let them know their rights and keep ICE accountable” during the raids by taking photos and video, he said.
“Our major concern is that in the past they were saying they were only going to be targeted operations but little by little they have been moving the needle,” Espinosa said of ICE agents.
Espinosa said his group was particularly worried about how ICE agents would handle families with mixed immigration status, such as migrant parents in the country illegally with U.S. citizen children.
“If families don’t have a plan or there’s no one to care for the children, where are the children going to go?” Espinosa said.
Matthew Albence, the ICE acting director, told the Associated Press the targets were on an “accelerated docket” of immigration court cases for predominantly Central Americans.
“This family operation is nothing new,” Albence said. “It’s part of our day-to-day operations. We’re trying to surge some additional resources to deal with this glut of cases that came out of the accelerated docket, but after this operation is over, these cases are still going to be viable cases that we’ll be out there investigating and pursuing.”
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.
The threat of raids brought out protesters Friday night in downtown L.A., West Hollywood and other locations.
Los Angeles County government officials on Friday held a news conference in advance of the possible ICE raids, urging immigrant families to exercise their rights and prepare for any family disruption.
“We’re here to say that we are well aware of the fear that’s going on in our community,” said Supervisor Hilda Solis at the conference at the Hall of Administration downtown. “There’s no doubt there is going to be lasting repercussions, in terms of the trauma that’s going to be faced by our families.”
Appearing on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360” on Friday evening, Garcetti criticized the operation as chaotic and inhumane.
“These are people going to church wondering if there’s going to be somebody when they come out of services. These are folks going to a park, a picnic, celebrating birthdays,” Garcetti said. “It will spread fear to that entire community and to the U.S. citizens that are a part of their families.”
Solis and other officials from several county departments said they would be operating telephone hotlines Friday and over the weekend in an effort to help immigrant families by connecting them to legal and youth services. The group urged residents whose lives might be disrupted by the raids to plan ahead, especially if they have children — and to know their rights, including access to an attorney and the right to avoid immigration agents who don’t have warrants seeking their detention.
“If you or your family have concerns about federal immigration enforcement, if you witness a child in need as a result of immigration activity, or if you need assistance connecting to services like health care, mental treatment or those kinds of services, our staff is available,” said Joseph Nicchitta, who heads the county’s Consumer and Business Affairs office, which includes staff devoted to assisting immigrants.
10:30 a.m.: This article was updated with comments form L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti.
This article was originally published at 8:40 a.m.