New York Times
By Liz Robbins
January 6, 2016
The rumors had been flying in the New York area since Saturday: Officials from Immigration and Customs Enforcement had swooped into churches and public schools, dragged away an undocumented family at the Staten Island Mall, pulled over drivers on the Southern State Parkway and set up blockades in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, and at the Staten Island Ferry.
None of it appeared to be true.
But in the wake of the Department of Homeland Security’s announcement that over the weekend it had started deporting families, particularly those from Central America who had entered the United States illegally in the last 18 months, no one — not even immigration lawyers — could separate fact from fiction.
“We’re all a little spooked,” said Araceli, 45, who asked to be identified by only her given name because of her fear of deportation. A mother of five from Mexico, she, like most others interviewed, spoke in Spanish. She was at a Know Your Rights meeting at El Centro del Inmigrante, an immigrant rights group, on Staten Island on Tuesday night, which drew a standing-room-only crowd of 125. “We’re getting these texts from friends saying that there have been raids, and we’re scared because we don’t know,” she added.
Across the region, immigrants who are undocumented and even those who have legal status have been paralyzed by fear. People stayed home from work or refused to leave the house even to buy milk. Some kept their children home from school or stayed in other people’s homes, afraid that a raid could happen anywhere, anytime.
On Tuesday morning at El Centro’s day laborer hiring center, only four men appeared for work; usually there would be 10 or 12. Ligia Guallpa, the executive director at the Worker’s Justice Project in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, which also runs a hiring center, reported that just three out of 10 day laborers had shown up. Araceli said she had stayed home from her English class that day, and only two of the usual 15 students had attended.
“For two days I didn’t go out; I just didn’t leave the house,” said Joao, a day laborer on Staten Island who gave only his nickname. He said his family called him to check on him, and he responded with dark humor. “‘Don’t worry,’” he told them, “‘I’m hiding under the bed.’”
As the rumors from his clients multiplied, Patrick Young, the program director of the Central American Refugee Center in Hempstead, N.Y., on Long Island, said he tried to investigate. “But when we’ve looked into them, they turned out not to be real,” he said, adding, “People are engaged in hysterics.”
According to the Department of Homeland Security, 121 people were arrested for deportation over the weekend, primarily from Georgia, North Carolina and Texas in an operation targeting adult and child migrants who arrived from Central America after Jan. 1, 2014. Many of them have said they fled violence in their home countries and applied for asylum. Those being removed already had orders of deportation issued against them, either because they lost their asylum claims or in many cases because they never showed up for their court dates and were ordered removed in absentia.
Those who are in the process of applying for asylum or, in the case of children who came to the United States on their own, special immigrant juvenile status, are not part of the recent sweeps, the government said, nor is New York City.
“At this time, we are not conducting the family enforcement action in New York,” said an Immigration and Customs Enforcement official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the agency does not discuss its actions publicly.
But the official did say that the New York field office was conducting its usual operations. “We have fugitive teams in New York tasked with final orders of removal,” the official said.
The Know Your Rights meeting on Tuesday night was the first of many such sessions scheduled across the region this week. There, a lawyer warned the worried attendees to be careful. Even if an immigration officer was looking for one person, that officer could also make “collateral arrests.”
In a 90-minute presentation in English that was translated into Spanish, Thomas Angelillo, a lawyer with El Centro, said: “Do not open the door. Remain silent and do not speak. Or say that you want to speak to a lawyer.”
He added, “Ask to see an arrest warrant.”
He warned people that if immigration officers came to a public place, like a park, not to run because that would give officers cause for an arrest. “Yes, don’t run, that’s the most important thing,” one attendee said in Spanish.
In interviews, some immigrants said parents were keeping their children home from school for fear of raids, though a spokeswoman for Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office said there had been no “notable” drop in attendance citywide.
Josue, a Staten Island teenager who arrived from a Central American country one year ago and was applying for legal relief, said he still went to school, despite having been woken up by pounding on his door before dawn on Monday. A member of Atlas: D.I.Y., a cooperative immigrant youth organization that provides legal services for immigration cases, he asked to be identified only by his middle name because of his immigration status.
Though the men pounded for half an hour, he refused to open the door because, he said, they would not provide identification that they were government officials and would not say exactly for whom they were looking. Josue shares the house with four other undocumented immigrants.
The men eventually left, and Josue said he counted the hours until his lawyer’s office would open.
Rebecca McBride, his lawyer, said no one in the house had an order of deportation.
The level of panic in the region, lawyers said, has not been seen for eight years — since the government’s Operation Return to Sender program sent paramilitary-type raids to immigrants’ homes.
LatinoJustice PRLDEF, a legal advocacy group, was one of several organizations that sued on behalf of 22 New York clients in 2007, accusing armed immigration officers of unlawfully breaking into homes and entering without warrants. The case against Immigration and Customs Enforcement was settled in 2013; the plaintiffs were awarded $1 million, and the agency was required to change its policies.
Immigration agents now have to get consent to enter a private residence, and if that consent is refused, they cannot use force to enter. They also need a Spanish-speaking officer present if the person being sought is Latino.
At the offices of Central American Legal Assistance in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Carlos Chavez, a receptionist, said on Tuesday that he had been fielding frantic phone calls for the last two days almost nonstop.
One client, Maria, a 22-year-old from Ecuador who asked to be identified by only her given name, called even though she was granted asylum several months ago.
But her brother and sister-in-law are undocumented. In an interview at her Brooklyn apartment, Maria said in Spanish that both had stayed home from work, her sister-in-law from a recycling factory and her brother from driving a taxi. Her brother, she said, had heard “that the police are stopping drivers and asking for papers.”
Maria reluctantly opened her door for reporters, only after asking for identification. Her sister-in-law flashed a look of terror.
”We are afraid to go out,” Maria said. “The fear,” she added, patting her chest, “has affected my heart.”
For more information, go to: www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com