Immigration advocates bracing for possible raids, training volunteers

As many as 200 people gathered in Austin Wednesday, demanding a stop to both SB4’s anti-immigrant sanctuary cities bill and HB577. (KXAN Photo/Tom Rapp)
As many as 200 people gathered in Austin Wednesday, demanding a stop to both SB4’s anti-immigrant sanctuary cities bill and HB577. (KXAN Photo/Tom Rapp)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Local immigration attorneys and activists are bracing for possible raids in Central Texas, after President Donald Trump recently signed an executive order that makes substantial changes to America’s immigration system. This federal order, combined with the current immigration policy back-and-forth battle between Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez and Gov. Greg Abbott, has immigration advocates concerned.

“Right now there’s a lot of rumors that Immigration and Customs Enforcement is beefing up their officers here in Austin because they plan to do a raid sometime in the weekend or sometime in the next few days,” said Alejandro Caceres, an immigration organizer for Grassroots Leadership. “I think that people should be on alert. I think that folks should be on the lookout.”

The activist group is going so far as to train volunteers on how to interact with law enforcement officials, local and federal, if an immigration raid breaks out in the area. The training is provided through a new program the organization started called “Sanctuary in the Streets,” which the organization said they’re borrowing from movements in Philadelphia.

“We’ve trained up to 130 people, but the plan is to train 500 people to get ready if a raid does happen,” said Caceres. The trained volunteers are already on-call and will be in the next few days.

Caceres says it comes as no surprise that members of the local immigrant community are fearful of possible raids.

“I think that they’re seeing what the state is doing. I think they’re seeing what the federal government is doing. I think it’s a really scary time,” he added.

Immigration attorney Griselda Ponce agrees, characterizing recent actions by government officials as having “anti-immigrant sentiment.”

“I think that the right stance is welcoming immigrants and looking at individuals and seeing whether this individual deserves to remain in this country, or whether they’re a danger to the community,” said Ponce. “ICE is not happy with our sheriff’s position as far as calling it a sanctuary city, and not fully cooperating with ICE in the manner that ICE would like. Because of that, we’re being targeted for ICE raids.”

Ponce said she believes these potential raids are going to affect a lot of businesses. “The construction industry, probably local restaurants might have ‘We Are Closed’ signs in the community because a lot of clients are getting the message that this is coming.”

Ponce also says President Trump’s immigration orders are reminiscent of Secure Communities, the country’s former immigration program.

“It’s very similar to what happened when President Bush was around,” said Ponce. “They were initiating business raids at factories, at restaurants, something that [the Obama administration] really moved away from, thinking that that probably wasn’t the best target for criminal aliens.”

Ponce says immigration attorneys are telling their clients to prepare now for possible raids by getting their personal affairs in order.

Immigration advocacy group, United We Dream, is educating immigrant communities what to do if ICE approaches them at their homes.
Immigration advocacy group, United We Dream, is educating immigrant communities what to do if ICE approaches them at their homes.

“We’re telling them that they need to prepare and have a plan in case their children are at school, if they are apprehended, if they end up detained. There has to be a backup plan for their children to pick them up from school. There has to be a backup plan, as far as finances to pay the rent.”

National advocacy groups are also promoting education among immigrant communities across the country. The group, United We Dream, is encouraging people to protect themselves against possible immigration raids.

In the downloadable flyer, pictured right, the organization explains what someone should do if federal immigration officials come to a possibly undocumented immigrant’s residence. The national organization, which proclaims to be made up of immigrant youth who are “building a movement for justice,” is committed to take action against hate. Their website states the group is “declaring a state of urgency and resilience for [their] communities.”

United We Dream is asking people to report ICE activity if they witness it in their community.

Austin-area Grassroots Leadership is echoing the need for what they’re calling “Know Your Rights Education.”

“Don’t open your door if there isn’t a warrant. Make sure that your kids don’t open the door as soon as the door is knocked. If there is a warrant, make sure that it’s signed by a judge. Make sure that everyone’s information is correct,” said Caceres. “Don’t open your door. Don’t talk to officers if you don’t need to, and don’t sign anything.”

Ponce said immigration attorneys are also trying to get the word out, asking their clients not to sign removal orders, to ask to speak to an attorney, and to ask for a hearing before an immigration judge, if they are apprehended at any time.

The Austin Bar Association is also responding to the changing immigration climate in our area. On Monday, February 6 at 11:30 a.m., the association is hosting a one hour CLE set titled, “Updates on Recent Executive Actions Impacting U.S. Immigration: What’s Happening, and What’s Next?”

KXAN reached out to regional ICE representatives on Wednesday about previous so-called raids. We were told that the federal entity conducts daily operations nationwide.

For more information about United We Dream and its cause, visit their website.

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