Bracing for the ICE crackdown: ‘I worry for my kids. I can try to protect them’

Dozens of people gathered in downtown Los Angeles on Friday to protest the detention of asylum seekers and the nationwide immigration raids set to begin Sunday.
(Mark Ralston / Getty Images)

President Trump’s announcement that new immigration raids will begin on Sunday has sparked debate and fear in communities across the nation.

The raids, which could roll out over an extended period, are expected to take place in at least 10 cities, including parts of California. 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.

Here is how the impending action is playing out across the nation:

Los Angeles

The threat of raids brought out protesters Friday night in downtown L.A., West Hollywood and other locations.


Los Angeles County government officials also 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, Mayor Eric 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.”


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.”

Balbina said she is afraid to call police in an emergency, since the sheriff in surrounding Terrebonne Parish supports ICE. If there’s an emergency during the storm Barry, she plans to call neighbors, fellow immigrants who have stocked up on food, medications and other essentials.

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Balbina said the family stopped attending weddings, quinceañeras and other parties after the first reports of potential raids last month. They also started saving more money as Balbina worried how she would find work if her husband was detained.

Her 14-year-old son started asking, “Mommy, if Papa gets taken, what will happen?”

“Can you imagine psychologically how it affects a child?” she said.

“I understand the politics of the president, but we are good working people,” said neighbor and fellow Mexican migrant Mariana, 34.

Mariana, who has lived in the U.S. illegally for about a decade on and off, works cleaning homes and shares a Houma mobile home with her husband, who repairs boats and works construction.

Since the raids were announced last month, she said, “He leaves for work and I don’t know if I’m going to see him again.” They planned to weather the storm at home she said Friday by phone. “I have the same fear of going out and getting detained,” she said.

Chula Vista, Calif.

“I’m a Mexican. I’m an immigrant and I agree with Donald Trump that people who come here, jumping the line, should be sent back,” said Eduardo Gonzalez, who said he is from Tijuana but has lived in Chula Vista for the past 30 years. “It’s like if you came and knocked on my door in the middle of the night. You have to ask to come into my house. And I am going to ask you: ‘Who are you? Where do you come from? Why do you want in here?’ ”

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Other neighbors said they felt bad for their friends who are living in fear.

“My neighbor, he doesn’t ever leave the house. He lives in constant terror about ICE. He is a good person. My neighbor for 17 years and right now we’re trying to figure out how to appoint me to power-of-attorney, in case something happens, so his kids don’t have to go to a camp or into foster care,” said Eduardo Fuentes, another Chula Vista resident.

Orange County, Calif.

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.”

Apolonio Morales, political director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, 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.”


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.

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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.”

Claremont, Calif.

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.”


Fiel Houston, an immigrants rights organization, had a team of 80 volunteers ready to deploy this weekend, some of whom responded to two 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 capturing 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.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner issued a statement of support to immigrant communities:

“The president’s order for concentrated ICE raids against immigrant families in Houston and elsewhere stands against everything we represent as a welcoming city. I do not support raids against innocent people who have come to this country to escape violence in their homeland or have come here to build a better life for their families. As mayor, I stand with all Houstonians regardless of their documentation status.

“Our job is to keep the city running and maintain public safety in our neighborhoods. Our job is not to be ICE — we do not deport people or break up families.”

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Houston) joined pastors from about 10 local churches Saturday announcing that they would offer sanctuary to migrants ahead of ICE raids.

Jackson Lee condemned the raids as “the misuse of an immigration system that’s already broken” and said it was the first time she had seen churches welcome migrants ahead of a raid in Houston, which is not a sanctuary city.

“We want to be a beacon of light for those who may be in fear,” said Rev. Robert Stearns of Living Waters Apostolic Ministries, where pastors met Jackson Lee and migrant activists late Saturday to announce their plans in the food pantry.

The church had enough to feed 500 migrants, either on site or by home deliveries, Stearns said. “During the civil rights movement, people sought refuge in the church. This is the civil rights movement of our time,” said Cesar Espinosa, executive director of the migrant advocacy group Fiel Houston who joined pastors and vowed to assist their effort.

Venus Rodriguez came to hear the announcement and relayed news to neighbors in the community group Northside Strong, including migrants in the country illegally. Those she knows are staying at home, afraid to go out and seek refuge, but they might reach out to churches for help.

“They’re aware and they’re on alert,” she said.

Dozens of church members, mostly African American, gathered for the announcement at Living Waters church, where they prayed for the president and chanted “Pull this order back!”

New York

New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio on Saturday tweeted in English and Spanish about possible ICE raids and advising immigrant communities about where they can get help:

“If you or a loved one are approached by federal immigration enforcement in your home, on the street, or in public, remember: You have rights — and your city will help you fight for them. ActionNYC is offering safe, legal help. Call 1-800-354-0365.

Immigrant advocates said they were ready to assist those targeted communities.

“There were some attempted raids in Sunset Park, Harlem, but they were unsuccessful,” said Jojo Annobil, executive director of New York-based legal advocacy group Immigrant Justice Corps.

Annobil said his group, which includes 54 lawyers in New York, New Jersey and southern states was prepared to respond by representing migrants with deportation orders, filing motions to reopen their cases.

He said many asylum seekers his group has encountered received deportation orders after immigration courts failed to notify them of court dates, or sent them incorrect dates.

“You end up deported when you didn’t even know you had court,” he said.