President Trump has said he wants to reduce the number of immigrants in the country illegally, and his proposals this week for stepped-up deportations appear to target a broad range of the estimated 11 million people who are in the country illegally.
For many, that means a lot of new worries.
Some immigrants say they are staying home for fear of being seized by immigration agents. Attorneys are watchful of their clients at courthouses, wondering if they could get picked up and deported after conviction for minor infractions.
With thousands more enforcement agents expected to be hired as part of the stepped-up enforcement plan, the idea of security for immigrants who are in the country illegally, many say, has gone out the window.
So far, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents say they have been enforcing deportation orders no more rigorously than did the Obama administration, which carried out 344,354 removals in the 2016 fiscal year.
In some ways, the sense of alarm — and preparation for what may be to come — is more prospective than actual. But across the country, it’s already being felt.
Michael Clara was walking to church Sunday morning when his neighbor stepped outside her front door. He knew her well enough to know she was in the house with the great-smelling food, but not well enough to have her phone number.
She looked troubled as she flagged him down. In Spanish, she asked Miguel — as she always called him — if he could do her a favor. When he got back from church, would he mind going to the grocery store for her to buy some milk, vegetables and other basic staples?
Sure, Clara said. But why?
The woman, in her 50s, said she was scared she might be deported. The news was full of news of la migra running raids and with President Trump’s executive orders, she was especially fearful to make the three-mile trip to the store.
She started to cry. He did too.
“I knew I couldn’t sit in church knowing she needed groceries,” Clara said. “So I just told her we could go then.”
In Phoenix, advice is making the rounds in immigrant circles: Stay indoors. Don’t look at a police officer for too long. Ask your legal children to do the grocery shopping.
“The undocumented are not venturing out as much,” said James Garcia of Promise Arizona, a nonprofit that works directly with immigrants who are in the country illegally. “They’re just not going out on the street as much. They don’t want a broken taillight to get them pulled over.”
Dozens of immigrants who are in the country illegally dropped by the offices of Promise Arizona to speak with staff about the risks of living under Trump’s most recent executive orders, Garcia said.
A southern Arizona nonprofit that returns the bodies of deceased migrants to their families has stopped sharing information with law enforcement.
“People are incredibly afraid” after Trump’s executive orders, said Robin Reineke, director of the Colibri Center in Tucson. “We’re continuing our strategy to help the families in their search for information without the use of law enforcement. What we’re afraid of is some of the processes we believed to be safe are no longer safe.”
New York officials complain that immigration agents are staking out the misdemeanor courts, looking for immigrants who can be detained. One legal permanent resident who showed up in court Tuesday morning on a misdemeanor assault case in New York was nabbed by four agents who had been waiting for him. The man had a prior 2006 felony conviction for a nonviolent offense.
“This is reverberating in many different forms,” said Stan German, executive director of New York County Defender Services. “People are afraid to go to parent-teacher meetings or to the emergency room. And talk about national security: How are we going to get witnesses? Nobody is going to go near a police office or a courtroom where they have to give their name and identify themselves.’’
The son of Dominican Republican immigrants, German said he had advised his 73-year-old mother, a naturalized U.S. citizen who lives in Florida, not to go out in public without her documents.
“My mother has been here 40 years paying taxes and she is walking around with multiple forms of identification for the first time in her life,” said German.
New York City Councilman Rory Lancman, who represents a district of Queens with a large immigrant population, has called on the New York City police to stop arresting people on misdemeanors such as jumping subway turnstiles or public urination for fear that they could be subject to deportation if they end up in the court system.
“I guess the most pernicious thing is that the immigration enforcement authorities are filtering through government at every level. People don’t know what are the safe zones in interacting with government,” said Lancman. “If people are afraid to call 911 to report a fire or report a crime, lives will be lost.”
One immigration advocate, Marshall Fitz, termed the Trump administration’s orders a “shock-and-awe campaign of really repressing rights.”
“Our identity as a welcoming, open nation frankly hangs in the balance,” said Fitz, a managing director of the Emerson Collective, a California-based philanthropy headed by Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Steve Jobs.
Fitz expressed strong doubt that talks in Mexico by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly would be productive, coming on the heels of the “doubling and tripling down on a very aggressive set of policies that will likely result in due process violations and incredible hardship for Mexican nationals living in the United States.”
Speaking on a conference call with reporters organized by immigration advocates, he predicted a public outcry as the scope of the new orders became clear, combined with a legal battle under the rubric of constitutional overreach.
Duara reported from Arizona, Demick from New York, King from Washington and Montero from Utah.