EL PASO, Texas — El Paso’s immigrant community is abuzz with word of possible immigration raids across the country, starting this weekend.
Priests, immigrant help centers and activists say worried individuals have approached them since president Trump tweeted on Monday that “Next week ICE will begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States….”
Media reports out of Washington say the stepped-up enforcement from ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) could get underway this Sunday in 10 cities, which didn’t include El Paso. And though analysts question the government’s capacity to round up thousands, even just those with pending deportation orders, immigrants are worried, local advocates say.
“I’m very concerned to hear word about raids coming up this weekend. It seems calculated to create fear in the immigrant community, not only those without documents but also those who do. It puts everyone on edge,” said Bishop Mark J. Seitz of the El Paso Catholic Diocese.
The advice of immigrant advocates comes down to this: Know your rights and prepare a contingency plan in case you’re taken away from your family.
“People must be aware of their rights. In this country, everyone has constitutional protections regardless of their status. No one can come into your home without a warrant signed by a judge. You have the right to remain silent and to ask to see a lawyer,” said Fernando Garcia, executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights.
Garcia estimates that tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants live in the El Paso-Las Cruces area and, because most have lived here for many years, have family members who are American citizens.
“They have children who were born here and have never known life in another country; we’re talking about a huge impact in our community,” Garcia said.
Dylan Corbett, director of El Paso’s Hope Border Institute, said the center has received numerous inquiries on the subject directly from individuals and through faith leaders.
“They are preoccupied because of information about an impending operation targeting families across the country. … Our advice is that when these situations happen, families should have a plan in case of eventual deportation,” he said.
For those with children who are minors, the priority should be deciding who will take care of their children, he said.
“They should also have all of their important documents in a secure place and the telephone number of an immigration attorney that they trust so they can call him or her if detained,” Corbett said.
No easy choices
Bishop Seitz is aware of the strong feelings surrounding the immigration issue in this country, but he urges introspection.
“If we were in their situation, we would have done exactly what they have done. To preserve (our) lives, to preserve the lives of our families, we would have come to a safe haven as well,” he said. “That is the situation for the vast majority of people who are here” without authorization.
He tells the story of a Mexican family who made its way to the United States so their autistic son could get treatment.
“They felt they needed to come to a place where their child could get some help even though they couldn’t legalize their papers. What happens if they are sent back to Mexico? What happens to this child?” he said.
And then there’s the dilemma of what to do with their U.S.-born children.
“There the injustice is even greater. Do they bring their children into a situation where their lives are going to be at risk, where they will have no opportunity for a livelihood? Or, do they leave their children behind? It’s a terrible choice. This is not the way to deal with the issue of immigration,” Seitz said.
Asked if the Church is prepared to offer physical sanctuary to undocumented immigrants, the bishop said that is a difficult choice as well.
Sheltering migrants from ICE in a church might raise awareness to their plight, but it won’t cancel a deportation order. “Would it really help them in the long term? I think probably not. It would just delay the inevitable. I don’t know if that’s best for the families,” he said.
Seitz said the long-term answer to America’s immigration crisis requires global solutions.
“We need to look into situations going on in sending countries, what is causing their people to seek out another place” to live, he said.