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DENVER – Anxious immigrants waited in fear Sunday as federal raids promised by President Donald Trump failed to materialize, with advocates staffing hotlines and visiting churches to reassure worried families.
The president said the raids would start Sunday, 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 Sunday, immigration attorneys and advocates around the country said they had not heard any reports of unusual ICE activity. The president 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.”
In the basement of St. Lucy’s Church in Newark, New Jersey, more than 50 people gathered to hear a presentation on what they should do if ICE agents came knocking. Newark resident Carlos Garay, who has two U.S.-born children, said he thinks twice before leaving his house every morning for work. He said he spoke to his sister-in-law, a U.S. citizen, about taking care of his children if he is detained for lacking immigration permission.
“You always have so much fear because the children are growing,’’ Garay said in Spanish, noting he does not have any deportation orders against him. “For years, I was here alone, and when a man is here alone, a man can fight alone, but when time passes and you have a family, then fear sets in.”
In Baltimore, the Rev. Bill Gohl Jr., the Lutheran bishop of Delaware-Maryland Synod, visited the Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic church in the Highlandtown neighborhood, an area he said is heavily populated with Latino immigrants. It was the third church he visited Sunday as part of his work with a network of interfaith leaders who monitor ICE activity.
“We’re keeping watch, so people can worship without fear,” he said.
This isn’t his first time taking a watch shift during ICE enforcement, he said. "I’ve witnessed this a couple of times, and it’s been horrible when it happens. It’s like living in a World War II movie,” he said.
In Texas, activists visited a north Houston flea market popular with immigrants to hand out pamphlets and gauge emotion in the community. ICE is probably waiting until national attention on the supposed raids subsides before launching operations, said Cesar Espinosa, executive director of the migrant advocacy group FIEL Houston. He said he wouldn’t be surprised if immigrants are picked up on their way to work during the week.
“We’re keeping our eyes and ears open for the next couple of days,” Espinosa said.
The ICE Field Office for Enforcement & Removal Operations in north Houston sat dark and dormant. No 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 offered sanctuary to immigrants wishing to avoid ICE raids, but none showed up, the Rev. Robert Stearns said. He said he spoke to 25 other churches that prepared beds and were “ready to do the right thing.”
New York City had no new reports of ICE raids as of early Sunday evening, said Anu Joshi, the New York Immigration Coalition’s senior director of immigrant rights policy.
That didn’t stop a 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.”
New York state Sen. Jessica Ramos, D-New York City, the daughter of undocumented parents, said her office is establishing ICE monitoring teams to ensure that the government agents don’t violate immigrant rights.
“We will not let anybody, even the president of the United States, mess with our friends,” Ramos said.
Ingrid Gomez, a co-founder of the community organization Queens United Independent Progressives, urged the rallygoers and marchers to take action if they spot ICE teams trying to arrest and detain immigrants.
“Please create a human chain around the homes,” Gomez said. "I hope you will join hands with me.”
In Atlanta, city officials said they had no word of any ICE raids. Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said ICE will usually communicate plans for raids with Atlanta police, so the department can prepare for a possible influx of calls.
“The most ridiculous part of this all is that we have not received any formal information on ICE raids,” Bottoms said Sunday at a Census 2020 block party in Atlanta.
Across the country, hotlines got calls from people who were afraid and asked 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 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. The only activity near the site was a group of 50 protesters across the street chanting "Abolish ICE" in English and Spanish.
Parishioners at St. Agnes of Bohemia, a Catholic church in the middle of the Little Village neighborhood on Chicago’s southwest side, shared the pews with some high-profile visitors at 10:30 a.m. Mass Sunday. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Sen. Dick Durbin, Rep. Jesus “Chuy’’ Garcia and other Illinois politicians attended the Mass to show support for the community Garcia called the Mexican capital of the Midwest.
After Mass, they walked half a mile down 26th Street, a major shopping street dubbed Chicago’s Mexican Magnificent Mile, talking with shop owners and handing out bright green cards from the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. The cards listed people’s rights during an ICE raid and a number for a family support line.
In Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, where the population is 60% Latino, Chicago Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez pointed to the quiet streets Sunday morning as a sign of fear among many residents and businesses. He said there were fewer vendors this weekend at the popular Swap O’Rama flea market.
Sigcho-Lopez and a group of volunteers headed out to block parties, markets and businesses to inform people of their rights.
“This is super personal to me as an immigrant, so I can relate to a lot of the families who have families or friends who are undocumented and they’re in fear,’’ he said. “They work here, they live here and we want to make sure they know we’re here for them."
In Denver, a small group of protesters screamed "fascist" to a worker leaving the ICE processing center, which was otherwise quiet. 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.
The president's supporters agree with his decision to target immigrants who have entered or remained in the country illegally, arguing that millions of people have successfully become citizens by following the law instead of sneaking across the border. Immigration advocates say the system is hopelessly broken and failing to adequately protect migrants fleeing widespread violence in their home countries.
ICE officials remained quiet about their plans Sunday. Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, refused to say whether the raids had even started. "I can't speak to operational specifics and won't," he said on CNN's "State of the Union."
That left immigrants and the advocates who have mobilized around the country to protect them unsure about when, or if, the raids would start.
Those advocates warned that the raids would tear apart families and sow further mistrust of the government.
San Francisco Mayor London Breed said Friday that the city’s police would not cooperate with any ICE operations and that the city was gearing up to protect its immigrants. “If you want to come after them, you’re going to have to come through us,” she said.
In Denver and other cities, government workers were on standby to find foster homes for any children left behind if their parents were detained and marked for deportation. In many cases, immigrants who lack legal permission to remain in the USA have minor children who are U.S. citizens.
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 will be 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 said 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 American Civil Liberties Union 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."
Contributing: Morgan Hines in Baltimore, Rick Jervis in Austin, Nicquel Terry Ellis in Atlanta, Elizabeth Weise in San Francisco, Dawn Gilbertson in Chicago and David Jackson in Washington
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump announces ICE raids: NYC, LA, Miami and other cities prepare