Immigrant advocates prepare for now-delayed ICE sweeps: ‘The effect is terror. We’re getting call after call’

ICE agents during a 2015 immigration sweep in Riverside. Immigrant advocates say the Trump administration’s announcement of sweeps starting Sunday are spreading fear in immigrant communities.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Emilio Amaya, a longtime immigrant advocate in the Inland Empire, spent much of the day Friday taking calls from a frightened community.

Some people had called the San Bernardino Community Service Center because of rumors, which turned out to be unfounded, that immigration raids were underway in their neighborhoods. Others shared that they had bought food and other basics so that they would not have to leave their homes next week. Still others said they would not be taking their children outside in the coming days.

No one yet knows the actual impact of nationwide immigration enforcement operations, which were set to start Sunday. But then President Trump announced in a tweet Saturday afternoon that the massive crackdown would be delayed two weeks.

Trump had previously said Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents would begin removing “millions” in the country illegally. Federal officials then said that agents in major U.S. cities would target up to 2,000 family members for deportation. Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore said about 140 individuals with orders for removal would be targeted by immigration agents in Southern California.


The announcements sent fear throughout immigrant communities.

“The effect is terror,” Amaya said. “We’re getting call after call after call. There is a lot of fear.”

Like immigrant advocates throughout Southern California, Amaya said he was urging people to prepare but not panic.

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The Los Angeles County Office of Immigrant Affairs had opened four hotlines that people could call from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday for advice on how to address their concerns about the planned removals.

The main thing people should know is that they have rights, for instance the right to not open their door unless an immigration agent has a warrant signed by a judge with their name on it, said Renee Vazquez of the L.A. County Department of Consumer and Business Affairs, which runs the immigrant affairs office.

People who come into contact with immigration officers also have the right to remain silent, to consult an attorney, and to not sign any papers until they’ve spoken with a lawyer, Vazquez said.

The hotlines — (213) 974-2998, (213) 974-3048, (213) 974-3012 and (213) 974-3005 — can also help connect people to legal services, Vasquez said.

Angelica Salas, executive director of the nonprofit Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, said her group has been meeting with others as part of a rapid response network of community organizations and attorneys, who are on call to provide legal representation to people arrested by immigration agents.

Groups in the network operate hotlines throughout the region that advocates have been urging people to call to report ICE activity and enforcement actions.

“We’ve never had anything like this where whole families are being targeted, as opposed to individuals, so we’re preparing to see a new face of enforcement that maybe we haven’t seen before,” Salas said.

Her group has also been using social media and other outlets to urge people to know their legal rights in case they are targeted by immigration agents.

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In California, the efforts of immigrant advocates have been boosted by numerous elected officials such as Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who on Friday tweeted a link to the city’s “Community Resource Guide for Immigrant Angelenos” along with the message: “No Angeleno should ever have to fear being snatched from their home or separated from their loved ones — we are doing everything we can to provide immigrant families with info and support ahead of the announced ICE deportation sweeps.”

Salas noted that CHIRLA is well prepared to respond to ICE actions because immigration enforcement happens daily in Southern California. A major difference in this case is that Trump and federal officials have been so public about their plans.

“People know that enforcement is happening all the time. But the manner in which this is being rolled out is cruelty at its highest level,” she said. “This president is doing this with the intention to scare and to create terror in our community.”

In an interview with ABC News Live, ICE acting Director Mark Morgan said the agency is not trying to spread fear.

“No one is instilling fear in anyone,” he said. “This is about the rule of law and maintaining the integrity of the system.”

An administration official told the Associated Press earlier this week that ICE would be focusing on people who had final deportation orders from federal judges but remained at large in the country.

Amaya, director of the San Bernardino Community Service Center, said he believes the enforcement that is set to start Sunday will end up having a much more limited impact than what people have come to fear, particularly because immigration authorities have limited resources.

Even so, he said, immigrant communities should get ready.

“Stay calm, understand your rights and be prepared,” he said.

Immigration hotlines

The Los Angeles County Office of Immigrant Affairs has opened four hotlines that people can call from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

(213) 974-2998; (213) 974-3048; (213) 974-3012; (213) 974-3005

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