Anxious immigrants waited in fear today as federal raids promised by President Trump failed to materialize, with advocates staffing hotlines and visiting churches to reassure worried families.
Trump said the raids would start today, leading many to worry that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents would follow their usual procedure of conducting predawn raids to round up immigrants.
But as the hours passed today, immigration attorneys and advocates around the country said they had not heard any reports of unusual ICE activity.
Trump said the raids will primarily target immigrants with criminal convictions or those previously ordered deported.
Camila Alvarez, a managing attorney for the Central American Resource Center in Los Angeles, said the day proved “anxiety-inducing” for the community.
“It’s so clear that this is a political tool for the current administration,” Alvarez said. “These raid announcements have been designed to instill fear in the immigrant community.”
The ICE Field Office for Enforcement & Removal Operations in north Houston sat dark and dormant.
No noticeable vehicles were seen exiting or entering the high-fenced parking lot.
Large white passenger buses, often used in deportation raids, sat empty by a loading dock.
Fourteen miles south, at the Living Water International Apolistic Ministries church, congregants clapped and sang through gospel songs at Sunday service as members played an electric organ and drums.
The church had offered sanctuary to immigrants wishing to avoid ICE raids, but none had shown up, the Rev. Robert Stearns said. He said he had spoken to 25 other local churches who were all preparing beds and “ready to do the right thing.”
New York City had no new reports of ICE raids as of tonight, said Anu Joshi, the New York Immigration Coalition’s senior director of immigrant rights policy.
That didn’t stop an estimated crowd of more than 100 community organizers, immigrants, elected officials and others from holding an immigration rally and march under nearly 90-degree temperatures in the Jackson Heights neighborhood of New York City’s Queens borough – one of the most ethnically and linguistically diverse areas in the nation.
March organizers with bullhorns led chants of “abolish ICE.”
Immigration advocates expected that communities around Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York and San Francisco would be targeted in the raids through at least Thursday. Trump said convicted criminals in the country illegally are being targeted first.
“It starts on Sunday and they’re going to take people out and they’re going to bring them back to their countries,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Friday. “We are focused on criminals as much as we can before we do anything else.”
The Trump administration argues the nation’s immigration laws have long been ignored and that tougher enforcement is necessary because Democrats in Congress have failed to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
Critics say the president’s hard-line stance is aimed at bolstering his support among conservatives who make up his base. They called the raids heartless and unwarranted, citing the United States’ long history of welcoming refugees and immigrants.
The ACLU filed a lawsuit to stop the raids and subsequent deportations, arguing that many of the targeted people were unaware they were subject to what’s known as a “final order of removal” because federal officials did a poor job of proving accurate court dates and appointment updates.
“These refugees failed to appear because of massive bureaucratic errors and, in some cases, deliberate misdirection by immigration enforcement agencies,” the ACLU said in a lawsuit filed Thursday. “The agencies’ flagrant and widespread errors made it impossible for people to know when their hearings were being held.”
Across the country, hotlines were getting calls from people who were afraid and who were asking questions.
“And a lot of hate calls,” mostly from people spouting anti-immigrant rhetoric, said Hamid Yazdan Panah, regional director for the Northern California Rapid Response & Immigrant Defense Network.
The network has documented an uptick in ICE activity in Northern California since last Sunday, which leads it to believe that some form of operation has been taking place over the past week, Panah said.
“I continue to believe that ICE already started to pick up some individuals that were targets of this operation this past week. I suspect they will continue to do that moving forward, but not within an announced or leaked time period,” Panah said.
In Chicago, the street outside an ICE detention facility was closed to regular traffic, but no government vehicles were seen coming or going Sunday morning.
In Denver, a small group of protesters screamed “fascist” to a worker leaving the ICE processing center, which was otherwise quiet.
On Friday, a group of protesters tore down several flags displayed outside the privately run facility, raising up a defaced American flag and the Mexican flag, a move that drew widespread condemnation.