Panic setting in among Hispanics over deportations

Panic setting in among Hispanics over deportations
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Hispanic organizers are struggling to tamp down panic in their communities as federal authorities begin to implement President Trump's executive orders on immigration. 

One of the first cases to receive national attention, the deportation of Arizona resident Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos, has put undocumented and mixed status communities on edge.

"It's fair to say we’re all extremely troubled by the deportation action we saw take place yesterday in Arizona," said Janet Murguia, president of the National Council of La Raza.

"The first deportation [after] his executive order is of a working mom with two U.S. kids," she added.

On the campaign trail, Trump initially promised to enact a deportation force to deport all 11 million undocumented immigrants, starting with dangerous criminals.

“They’re going to be out of here so fast, your head will spin,” Trump told Fox News in August. “As far as the rest, we’re going to go through the process, like they are now — perhaps with a lot more energy.” 

Trump softened his tone somewhat over the campaign, saying at the final presidential debate in October that he would prioritize the removal of "bad hombres." 

And as president-elect, Trump said his government would seek out "three or four million" dangerous criminals immigrants for deportation. 

Many Hispanic advocates feel that the Garcia de Rayos case shows the Trump administration will aggressively pursue all undocumented immigrants. 


"This reaffirms that when the Trump administration said they would go after criminals, they really meant everybody," Murguia said. 

The perception that Trump is shifting back to his early campaign proposals has shaken many Hispanics, including many who are legally in the country.

"The uncertainty and the confusion is prevalent with undocumented, legal residents and also citizens," said Telemundo anchorman José Diaz-Balart. "There are millions of mixed status families in the United States of America." 

And community organizers admit they have few tools to quell the trepidation.

NCLR is one of many organizations that has set up a legal defense structure and started programs to inform immigrants of their rights, but under current law, an undocumented immigrant who comes in contact with federal enforcement officers has relatively few options.

"We want people to stay calm and we want to give them assurances but we can’t give them assurances," Murguía said.

Community organizations and media are focusing on keeping people informed of their options and the government's ability to persecute undocumented immigrants.

"What we are asking of the community is to get more plugged into community organizations," said Erika Andiola, political director of Our Revolution, a political action group spun off Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersOvernight Health Care — Presented by March of Dimes — Abortion access for 65M women at stake Hospitals in underserved communities face huge cuts in reckless 'Build Back Better' plan Sanders urges Biden to delay Medicare premium hike linked to Alzheimer's drug MORE's (I-Vt.) presidential campaign.

"[We're] providing know-your-rights training, things you can do to protect yourself if you have a house raid or work raid," Andiola said.

Diaz-Balart, the anchor for Noticieros Telemundo, the network's nightly news program, is hosting a town hall event Sunday for his viewers to better understand the administration's immigration actions.

"[Immigrants are] now asking, 'how is this going to have an impact on me?'" said Diaz-Balart. 

"It’s a town hall that is going to be dealing with the questions that we hear over and over and over again from the people that we serve," he said. "It’s not about telling people what they want to hear, it’s about making sure the people are informed about things."

Through his executive orders, Trump went after so-called "sanctuary cities" that restrict the degree to which their law enforcement agents collaborate with federal immigration enforcement. He has also redefined who could be labeled a "criminal alien."

That redefinition greatly expanded the number of undocumented immigrants liable to be targeted for removal, beyond the "three or four million" that Trump had mentioned.

José Magaña-Salgado, an attorney at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, cited a study that said as many as 8 million people could now be targeted for deportation. 

Under Trump's order, the definition of criminality was expanded to include misdemeanors like illicitly crossing the border. 

It also expanded the definitions for immigrants to be considered priorities for deportation. Foreigners who have "committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense" are priorities, even before conviction. It also includes those who have committed "fraud or willful misrepresentation in connection with any official matter or application before a governmental agency," a category that includes using fake Social Security numbers to work.

While Trump campaigned on the prospect of removing dangerous criminals, Magaña-Salgado said the very structure of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) would provide an incentive for indiscriminate enforcement.

"The general philosophy of ICE agents and CBP agents, they view their job as expelling as many people from the country as possible," said Magaña-Salgado.

"It benefits them to have high deportation numbers because they can justify their budget, they can justify their mission," he added. 

And cases like Garcia de Rayos provide an easy target for federal agents.

Garcia de Rayos was apprehended during a yearly inspection at her local ICE headquarters, in which she voluntarily presented herself keeping with orders given to her when she was originally apprehended.

As a low-risk offender — Garcia de Rayos was convicted of using a fake Social Security Number to work — she was not on the Obama administration's deportation priority list despite have been slated for deportation by an immigration judge.

Beyond the detention of Garcia de Rayos, ICE conducted large raids this week on homes and workplaces that further alarmed Hispanic communities.

Karen Tumlin, legal director of the National Immigration Law Center, said agents denied access to immigration lawyers after one such raid in Los Angeles that rounded up about 100 people.

"Immigration attorneys flocked to the scene," Tumlin said. "They were shut out."

"[It's] absolutely unacceptable and potentially unlawful," she added.

Similar cases to Garcia de Rayos could also attract the attention of federal enforcement officers because of the shortage of immigration judges to prosecute cases. People who have already been slated for deportation by a judge can be removed without further due process.

The lack of immigration judges is "certainly going to be a constraint," said Magaña-Salgado. 

But agents can use expedited removal procedures, curbed under the Obama administration but not taken off the books, to get detainees to accept a quick deportation over a lengthy wait for an immigration judge, in many cases while incarcerated. 

"They’re going to use that tool to take people out of the court system and due process," Magaña-Salgado said.

Activists warn that going after easy targets can damage communities in several ways.

People who would otherwise be economically active could go into hiding, trust in law enforcement agencies could be diminished, and dangerous criminals could more easily slip through the cracks as federal agents pursue non-dangerous undocumented immigrants.

"People want to comply with the enforcement agencies," Murguia said. "They’re supposed to report in with these check ins; if they see they’re going to put themselves at risk, it’s a very difficult situation." 

"These are gut wrenching, heart-breaking stories," she added. "In a civilized society, we can’t find a better way to deal with these issues?" 

The Telemundo town hall will air Sunday, Feb. 12 at 7 p.m. EST and will feature Alma Rosa Nieto, an immigration lawyer who will answer questions on specific cases.