Immigrants seek protection for families after 121 people were taken into custody to be deported, as legal groups and Latin American consulates rush to assistance

immigration protest ice raids deportation
Members of Latino and immigration assistance organization We are CASA protest in front of the White House after ICE raids targeted immigrants for deportation over the weekend. Photograph: Shawn Thew/EPA

Agents arrived at the Morales home around 4.30am on Saturday. The knocking was so loud, it rattled the windows in the house and it seemed like the agents would break down the door.

Rene Morales, 30, could see from inside that they were agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, he told the Guardian on Tuesday. Flashlights beamed through the windows of the darkened home and his older sister, Rosa Vargas Morales, who had recently arrived from Guatemala with her three children and a granddaughter, trembled in a room. The family gathered at the bedside of the youngest, an 11-year-old girl, who started bawling.

The early morning raid came at the beginning of a sweep over the weekend by the US Department of Homeland Security in which at least 121 people were taken into custody to be deported home. Those apprehended – in Georgia, North Carolina and Texas – were mostly women and children and mostly Central American immigrants fleeing violence whose asylum claims had been refused.

After the raids, pro-migrant groups said on Monday, panicked calls from immigrants to hotlines and attorneys surged.

“Everyone, even if they have no reason to be afraid, is just scared about it,” said Bryan Johnson, an immigration attorney in New York. He said his office received nearly double the usual normal number of about 100 callers on Monday.

Homeland Security said the raids targeted only immigrants who had been ordered to return home. But Johnson said that didn’t do much to assuage people’s fear they would be detained and deported.

“When people hear immigration raids and removal, they don’t have the legal education to know it’s not going to target them,” said Johnson. “Fear overrides everything, and they think the worst.”

United We Dream, a youth immigrant advocacy group, runs a hotline that urges people to report ICE raids. Carolina Canizales, the group’s deportation defense coordinator, said the hotline received the most fearful calls from New York, despite the fact that there had not been raids in the area.

“It’s a lot of panic and a lot of stress for people to be in fear of ICE,” she said, adding that there had been a lot of unconfirmed reports of raids.

Consulates across the US also reacted to the news of raids with warnings to their nationals abroad: “Don’t open the door for strangers who say they are looking for someone else,” a warning posted by the Guatemalan ministry of external relations said on Twitter in Spanish. “Immigration agents should show you an order signed by a judge to be able to come into your house.”

The consulates of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala said on Monday in a joint statement that they would coordinate to provide legal assistance to nationals detained during raids. Some consulates posted emergency contact numbers for offices in the US throughout Tuesday.

On Saturday morning, the agents kept knocking at the Morales door. Rene Morales didn’t, initially, open the door. The agents left, and returned at 7am. But when Morales left to buy milk at 10am, two SUVs boxed in his car, Morales said. Agents told him they were looking for a man named Miguel Soto, and that if Morales didn’t cooperate, he would be arrested.

“I worried what would happen to the kids if I was arrested,” Morales said, adding that he and his family have work permits so he had not been worried about being deported. “I let them in because I didn’t think they wanted us. We have authorization to be here.”

Vargas Morales said she had visited an immigration judge in Atlanta five times before the arrest and that there had not been a court order for her to leave the country. They had work permits and social security numbers, Morales said, with the asylum case still pending.

After photographing the IDs of everyone in the family, ICE took Vargas Morales, 37, her 17-year-old son, and 11-year-old daughter, all of who arrived in Georgia, from their native Guatemala in 2014.

Vargas Morales’s oldest daughter, a 19-year-old with an infant daughter, was not taken into custody. Since that day, she has rotated between friends’ houses every night to avoid another raid.

“It is inhumane,” Morales told the Guardian. “How can you put an 11-year-old through this? It’s going to leave a mark on her life forever.

“Right now my family is detained and I don’t know what will happen to them,” he said, adding. “All I can do now is ask God for help.”

Vargas Morales and her children are being processed for deportation at a detention center in Texas. They may return to Guatemala the same way they left it: carrying no possessions but the clothes on their backs.

Considered middle-class in the small Guatemalan town where she sold women’s clothing, Vargas Morales attracted the attention of “delincuentes”, her brother said. Gang members sent messages claiming they would kidnap her youngest daughter if she didn’t pay them.
What ultimately drove them to leave the country, Morales said, was witnessing a massacre while driving through town, and warnings from friends that the gang was hunting for her. She and her children abandoned their home in the middle of the night to seek asylum in the US.

“The law in my country doesn’t exist,” Morales said. “If something happens, police don’t act. They are more afraid of the gangs than anyone. That’s why I fear for my sister being sent back. These delincuentes know what she looks like.”

Family members picked up over the weekend are being transferred to detention centers in Texas for final processing before being flown back to their countries of origin. Johnson said that those detained “have exhausted appropriate legal remedies, and have no outstanding appeal or claim for asylum or other humanitarian relief under our laws”.

However, Raices, a Texas-based group that offers legal advice to immigrants, said on Tuesday that women and children from five families set to be deported to El Salvador had been granted last-minute stays and that the organization would be filing more appeals on other immigrants’ behalfs.

The group accused ICE of violating due process by denying detainees access to an attorney.

“Yesterday they told us we had to sign deportation orders, and that there was no other option,” said Gloria Rivas, a 39-year-old Salvadorian woman inside a Texas detention center, on Tuesday.

Immigrant advocates were outraged by the roundups, which they said was a misguided effort to deter others from making the perilous journey from Central America through Mexico. Many of those detained crossed the US-Mexico border during a 2014 surge of migrants, as families fled gang and drug war violence in Central American countries.

ICE’s tactics during raids have long attracted criticism. The homeland security secretary, Jeh Johnson, said in a statement on Monday that “given the sensitive nature of taking into custody and removing families with children, a number of precautions were taken as part of this weekend’s operations”, and that female ICE agents and medical personnel were deployed to take part in the operations.

But the weekend’s raids brought back painful memories for Armando Carrada, an immigration activist in Florida.

Expecting a plumber one day last March, his mother opened her front door at about 7am. Outside were about 10 ICE agents, Carrada said, who barged in, searched the house and grilled family members for 90 minutes about a distant relative they were looking for.

Part of Carrada’s job is to prepare migrants for similar situations. “Ask for a lawyer, don’t sign anything,” he advises. “Know your rights, it does make a difference.” But when he himself was confronted with the agents, he said he found it hard to put the theory into practice. “You’re in such fear,” he said. “Whether you know your rights or not, they’re going to treat you like garbage.”

[Source:- the gurdian]

By Adam