Immigrants on edge over prospect of ICE raids

Immigrant communities across the country are on edge after mass deportation operations promised by President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial Vulnerable Democrats tout legislative wins, not impeachment Trump appears to set personal record for tweets in a day MORE failed to materialize in recent days.

Trump has claimed the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids were “very successful” and took place out of the public eye. But immigration advocates said they’ve seen no evidence of a widespread sweep, and experts question whether the president may have hindered the efforts by speaking publicly about them. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Advocacy organizations are urging those who may be targeted by ICE to remain vigilant, cautioning that the larger raids could take place in the coming days, weeks or months.

“I think this threat is still out there, and there’s no trust in this administration,” said Sergio Gonzales, deputy director of the Immigration Hub. “People are still very much living as if this could happen at any moment.”

Immigration advocacy groups and local officials braced for raids targeting at least 10 major cities and thousands of individuals with deportation orders after Trump said they would begin last Sunday.

In the days since, ICE carried out enforcement activity in New York City, Oregon, Denver and elsewhere. Gonzales said he’d heard of instances of individuals and family members being picked up by ICE but that it was unclear whether they were part of regular ongoing enforcement efforts.

But the sweeping operation that many expected never arrived.

John Sandweg, who served as acting ICE director in the Obama administration, said he believes there was an unreasonable expectation for the scope of the operation. He noted the agency lacks the resources to round up the scores of immigrants Trump had indicated would be targeted in one coordinated swoop.

“This operation was never going to be what I think the media and the advocates and maybe even the president thought it would be, which was thousands of ICE agents swarming around the streets of America,” Sandweg said. “It was always going to be much lower profile than I think people realized.”

The specter of ongoing raids looms as immigration promises to be a flashpoint ahead of the 2020 election. Trump continues to wield the issue as a driving motivator for his base of supporters, while Democrats frame the administration’s treatment of migrants as a human rights catastrophe.

Trump spoke publicly of his plans for mass immigration raids in the days before they were set to commence.

“There’s nothing to be secret about,” Trump said last week, calling it a “major operation.”

Sandweg said ICE operations are “never” publicized ahead of time and signaled Trump may have endangered the operation with his comments. 

“It’s a serious concern there primarily for officer safety reasons … and then also because it’s been pretty well documented that the effectiveness of these operations dissipates dramatically when word is out when they’re going to commence,” he said.

Refusing to concede the raids failed to live up to his promise, Trump has maintained over the past week that the raids were “very successful” and that “thousands” of violent gang members have been taken out of the country.

“On Sunday, there was a lot of activity, but you didn’t even see it because it went very smoothly,” Trump told reporters on Tuesday.

ICE did not respond to requests for comment on whether the operation went through as planned.

Reps. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) and Joaquin CastroJoaquin CastroHispanic Democrats demand flu vaccines for detained migrants Pelosi faces tough choices on impeachment managers Hillicon Valley: Google to limit political ad targeting | Senators scrutinize self-driving car safety | Trump to 'look at' Apple tariff exemption | Progressive lawmakers call for surveillance reforms | House panel advances telecom bills MORE (D-Texas) wrote to the acting Homeland Security secretary and acting ICE director this week requesting information on how many people were apprehended between Sunday and Wednesday and how many collateral arrests were made of people who were not original targets of raids.

“The Administration’s plans to execute large-scale, coordinated enforcement operations and ongoing efforts to publicize inhumane family separations have caused significant anxiety, fear and trauma for American families and discord for citizens and migrants alike,” the lawmakers wrote.

Gonzales said the effects of the president consistently targeting immigrants are evident in certain communities. 

He described families shutting themselves in their homes and keeping kids from going to school out of fear of an ICE operation. Immigrants who worry about being deported may be reluctant to speak with the police, he said, putting a strain on local law enforcement.

“When there’s this kind of panic and fear, it’s not just immigrant communities who are being impacted,” he said. “It’s certainly having an impact on all the other facets of these towns and these communities.”

Jorge-Mario Cabrera, director of communications for the Los Angeles-based Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, added that the threat of mass sweeps will only intensify the emotional toll for many immigrants who feel “unwanted.”

Cabrera said he has little doubt that ICE will regroup and carry out the operation at a later date and that Trump's rhetoric will continue to incite anti-immigrant feelings among some in the country.

“I think the dramatic moment that the media and some of us were waiting for did not materialize,” Cabrera said. “But moments where families are separated still take place and will continue to take place … in the next days and weeks and months until this administration is over.”