LOS ANGELES—A group of 11 activists, including undocumented immigrants, filed a request on Tuesday that demands Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) divulge details on a canceled operation that reportedly would have led to the arrest of thousands of immigrants across the country.
The activists are allowed to make the request through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which permits lawful permanent residents and U.S. citizens access to some federal government records.
Immigration officials reportedly planned nationwide raids to target an estimated 8,400 undocumented immigrants this month in “the largest operation of its kind in the history of ICE,” according to a memo first obtained by NBC News last Thursday. But the operation was allegedly canceled after the destruction caused by Hurricane Harvey and the impending Hurricane Irma.
The raids were scheduled to take place over five days, beginning September 17, in what immigrations officials referred to as “Operation Mega,” according to the memo obtained by NBC News.
The immigrant rights activists say they’re concerned it’s only a matter of time before ICE carries out the operation.
“The worry now is when we should expect this to hit our communities,” said Erik Garcia, one of the 11 individuals named in the FOIA request sent to ICE Tuesday morning.
The FOIA request submitted here on Tuesday requests “all records, including policies, protocols, notes, memoranda, communications, manuals, forms or checklists, and records” that “describe Operation Mega or related operations, or their planning or execution.” The request also seeks documents pertaining to future plans to implement mass immigration raids.
The immigrant rights activists say they’re seeking more information to better inform and defend their communities. They say the information obtained will be disseminated to immigrant communities through events like “know your rights” training workshops.
The ICE field office in Los Angeles is next to the Metropolitan Detention Center, a federal prison that detains about 680 inmates, including undocumented immigrants in immigration court proceedings.
Similar FOIA requests were filed across the country on Tuesday. Activists say they were seeking records from at least two dozen local ICE field offices across the country.
The group was actually delayed from entering the federal building because a family approached them asking for help with a family member who is facing deportation. The family said a 38-year-old father who entered the United States at the age of 12 had been detained since August and was facing deportation this month.
Garcia was born in Mexico, but grew up in Anaheim, and came to the United States at the age of one. He said he was currently “DACAmented,” meaning he is undocumented, but has temporary authorization to legally work in the United States and some protections against deportation through the federal Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals program. The Trump administration announced last week that the program would be ending next year.
He wore jeans and Nike sneakers, his hair pulled back in a ponytail, as he entered the federal building. Along with six others activists named in the FOIA request, the group was escorted by two Homeland Security agents to the field office.
Garcia, is an organizer with Orange County Immigrant Youth United, said he was glad he went to the ICE office because, “actions like this are a testament that we’re undocumented and unafraid.”
The group’s fearlessness was apparent when the group decided to take a selfie in front of the ICE office. People waiting to meet ICE officers in a waiting room turned their heads and watched in awe when the seven activists walked through the hallway with authority, flanked by federal agents.
ICE personnel declined to meet the activists.
The region between Los Angeles and the U.S.-Mexico border near San Diego is home to the nation’s largest cluster of people living in the country illegally, according to an analysis of Census data by the Pew Research Center. The high concentration of undocumented immigrants leads to this region being hit hard during national raids.
The first national immigration raid operation under President Donald Trump’s administration was carried out over the course of five days in February this year, just three weeks after Trump’s inauguration in Washington. ICE officials said 680 immigrants were detained in the five-day nationwide operation; about 160 immigrants were detained in six counties in Southern California.
The operation that detained almost 700 people led to widespread panic across immigrant communities in the United States. “Operation Mega,” according to the memo obtained by NBC News, would have targeted 12 times as many immigrants.
“By giving it a name and calling it ‘Mega,’ that is meant to instill fear in our communities,” said Garcia. The word “mega” has similar meanings in Spanish and English.
Marcela Hernández, also named in the FOIA request, said reports of raids were an emotional and mental attack on immigrant communities.
“These immigrant communities can live in a constant fear, and we can combat that with knowledge and community organizing,” said Hernández, a local immigrant rights activist with the Immigrant Youth Coalition.
Hernández was born in Mexico City and was three years old when she came to the United States with her family. Currently, she has some protections from deportation through DACA but says if she loses her Deferred Action status, she will be more vulnerable to deportation.
“One of the best ways to counter the Trump administration is to show them as an undocumented community that we are still demanding our rights,” said Hernández.
An ICE spokesperson did not respond directly to the allegations of raids created to instill fear in the community but said ICE conducts targeted immigration enforcement in compliance with federal law and agency policy.
“ICE continues to focus its enforcement resources on individuals who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security,” the spokesperson said, while also acknowledging ICE Acting Director Thomas Homan has made clear that the agency does not exempt classes or categories of undocumented immigrants from potential enforcement.
The ICE spokesperson told Splinter the agency could not confirm receipt of the FOIA request because “it takes up to 10 business days for ICE’s FOIA staff to process and confirm receipt of a FOIA that is properly submitted.”
The activists said they’re requesting a meeting with ICE representatives in the Los Angeles field office and said they would be back to confirm officials received the FOIA request.
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