Following an intense week of sweeps across the country that nabbed hundreds of undocumented immigrants in at least seven states, authorities on Friday tried to downplay those actions as “routine.” Don’t believe them.
Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman Gillian Christensen, who according to The Washington Post “dislikes the term ‘raids,’ and prefers to say authorities are conducting ‘targeted enforcement actions,’” said the sweeps were “routine” and targeted mostly hardened criminals. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) official David Marin echoed that line, calling the raids “surge operations” that target “people in this country illegally who have criminal convictions,” according to NPR.
But in reality, the operations are meant to send a broader signal that spreads panic and fear in immigrant communities, at workplaces, and in homes, immigrant rights advocates say. And the timing of the raids is unmistakably attributable to Donald Trump’s Jan. 25 executive order calling for a crackdown on the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S.
Hiba Ghalib, an immigration lawyer in Atlanta, said the ICE detentions were causing ‘mass confusion’ in the immigrant community. She said she had heard reports of ICE agents going door-to-door in one largely Hispanic neighborhood, asking people to present their papers.
‘People are panicking,’ Ghalib said. ‘People are really, really scared.’
Immigration officials acknowledged that authorities had cast a wider net than they would have last year, as the result of Trump’s executive order.
David Abud, regional organizer for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, released a statement on Friday addressing the new fear tactics:
We recognize these raids as an effort by ICE and the new administration to sow chaos and intimidate our communities. They are attempting to normalize these attacks towards our community and we must be ready, at a moment’s notice, to mobilize and resist. In the face of these efforts, we will remain vigilant, focused, and organized. We are now more than ever emboldened to fight every single deportation and all further attacks on our communities in whatever form they may appear.
Jonathan Blazer, an advocacy and policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, told The New York Times, “The distinguishing factor under Trump is justifiable fear and anxiety. Those are categorically new.”
As The Washington Post noted:
Some activists in Austin and Los Angeles suggested that the raids might be retaliation for those cities’ so-called ‘sanctuary city’ policies. A government aide familiar with the raids said it is possible the predominantly daytime operations—a departure from the Obama administration’s night raids—meant to ‘send a message to the community that the Trump deportation force is in effect.’
Trump has promised to deport some 3 million undocumented immigrants during his presidency, and some estimates put the number of people exposed by his recent executive order as high as 5-8 million. And while authorities claim they are only targeting hardened criminals, a DHS official admitted that non-criminals were being swept up, The Washington Post reported, although no detailed information has yet been made public on those detainees.
Any doubts over the intent of this week’s raids were swept away on Thursday, when officials in Phoenix deported 36-year-old mother Guadalupe García de Rayos, who had lived in the U.S. for 21 years and routinely checked in with immigration authorities. Her detention and deportation sparked protests as supporters unsuccessfully tried to block officials from removing her.
Immigrant advocacy groups are now working to help educate people via social media on what to do should ICE come knocking on their doors. But ICE has already accomplished its objective this week: to make people very afraid. And there’s a strong possibility that these types of raids will continue in the near future.