All week, Veronica had distracted herself from a constant barrage of news about a series of coordinated immigration raids that the Trump administration planned to begin this weekend in cities across the country.
She worked late every night, preparing for a weeklong family vacation to Florida to visit Disney World and go fishing. She booked a three-bedroom apartment for herself and 13 family members. She packed her 4-year-old daughter’s Mickey Mouse backpack and “Frozen”-themed suitcase with clothes, stuffed animals and a blanket to sleep with.
But then, the woman who cleans Veronica’s home, who is undocumented, showed her cellphone videos of immigration arrests happening in Miami. The woman warned that Freddie, Veronica’s husband and partner of 15 years, who is undocumented and has a standing deportation order, could be swept up. Other family members and friends started to call, saying the same.
Hours before the family was scheduled pile into cars for the long drive to Florida from their home in Prince George’s County, Maryland, Veronica, who asked to be identified only by her first name, called her immigration lawyer for advice. The lawyer told her to cancel.
“It’s a disaster because my daughter was happy that we were taking this trip. She’s only 4 years old but she knows a lot things,” Veronica said. “Now we don’t know how we are going to explain to her that we’re not going to be able to go on vacation anymore.”
President Trump’s promises on Friday that the administration would execute a series of immigration arrests nationwide added to fears that have been growing among immigrant communities for more than a month, as the raids have been debated, scheduled and then rescheduled.
The operation will target some 2,000 undocumented immigrants who crossed the border recently, in groups of family units. That is a departure from what is typical for Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, who tend to focus on deporting adults who entered the country alone. But word of the operation seems to have struck fear across undocumented communities, including among people who have been living here for years.
Immigration agents were spotted on Friday in Immokalee, Fla., about 40 miles east of Naples, though it was not clear whether their work was connected to the larger operation. Norelia Sanchez, an immigrant family support worker with the Redlands Christian Migrant Association in Immokalee, said locals had called her at 6 a.m., when ICE agents were seen parked outside of a local Hispanic restaurant.
Ms. Sanchez said residents had reported seeing the agents “knocking door by door.” Her organization was still trying to confirm on Saturday reports that a mother had been detained when she had met one of her children at a bus stop.
Some parents called the center’s offices and apologized for not sending their children into summer day care and education programs; they would not be leaving the house because of ICE’s presence, they told Ms. Sanchez and her colleagues.
“The ones who did, you could actually see mothers with children, holding their hands, holding their cellphones, and they were literally running to the school,” Ms. Sanchez said.
The Campo Rojo area, where many migrants live, appeared deserted on Friday, Ms. Sanchez said. “It was just plain silent. It was completely a ghost town.”
The raids were planned out of Mr. Trump’s frustration over the steady stream of migrant parents and children who began crossing the border in record numbers last October, with numbers increasing almost every month since. Though border crossings dropped slightly in June, the administration says that the situation is still a “humanitarian crisis.”
Caving to pressure from Democratic lawmakers and immigrant advocates who had labeled the raid operation as inhumane and unnecessary, Mr. Trump delayed the raids in June, saying that he would give Democratic lawmakers time to adjust existing immigration laws to tighten up the asylum process. In the absence of legislative change, plans for the raids re-emerged this week, spiking fear once again.
Now, a number of undocumented immigrants — particularly those in the dozen or so cities that are rumored to be a focus of the event — are making plans to evade arrest. Some have fled their homes, choosing to get as far as possible from the addresses that the government has on file for them. Others are hunkering down with reserves of food, planning to shut themselves inside until the operation ends.
They are helped by the fact that ICE agents cannot forcibly enter the homes of their targets under the law. But if past tactics are any measure, agents are likely to come to the operation armed with ruses to coax people outside. They will likely have new strategies that might help to counteract the preparations that undocumented immigrants have been making with the help of their lawyers.
Anticipating that they will not manage to block all of the arrests through preventive strategies, immigration lawyers and advocates across the country have been working swiftly to distribute contingency plans for those who are captured.
Shannon Camacho, a coordinator of the Los Angeles Raids Rapid Response Network for immigrants, said the organization is urging undocumented parents with children who are United States citizens or legal permanent residents to sign caregiver affidavits, so that if the parents are deported, the children will not be left without legal guardians.
“When people are arrested, their children can’t be picked up from school, or if they’re caring for the elderly, no one will be around to give them their medicine. We tell them to have designated people in their friends or family networks to respond,” said Ms. Camacho.
Mony Ruiz-Velasco, the director of PASO-West Suburban Action Project, a community group in Melrose Park, Ill., said her staff and volunteers were advising families to memorize at least one phone number so that they can call for help if they are detained.
Win, the largest nonprofit provider of shelters for families with children in New York, notified families with undocumented members to be cautious and to leave over the weekend, if necessary, a person familiar with the instructions confirmed. The nonprofit operates 11 shelters, and houses about 10 percent of the nearly 12,000 families in the city currently living in shelters.
A 17-year-old girl, who lives in one of the shelters and who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said a shelter employee used coded language to warn her family to go into hiding and to return on Monday. “They said, ‘Your room is going to be very hot this weekend. Come back Monday when things cool off,’” she said.
Meanwhile, immigrants’ rights lawyers were preparing to file court motions to reopen the immigration cases of people who are arrested in the operation before they can be deported. Doing so will require that the lawyers get access to the detention centers where the migrants will be held, and it is unclear whether federal officials will make such access available, lawyers said.
“We have a library at this point of different kinds of motions that we can file,” said Judy London, directing attorney of Public Counsel’s Immigrants’ Rights Project in Los Angeles. She added: “The access issue is what we are most concerned about.”
Ms. London’s organization is party to a lawsuit filed this week in New York to prevent the operation. In the lawsuit, the lawyers, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, claim that many of the migrants who are being targeted failed to appear in immigration court — a common reason for a deportation order — because the Trump administration did not inform them of their court dates.
Across the country, news of the operation sparked fear, even among immigrants who were unlikely to be affected — such as those who had never had an encounter with federal authorities, and were therefore unknown to the government, according to lawyers who were making preparations on Friday.
That afternoon, Atlanta immigration lawyer Charles Kuck took audience questions from inside the Univision 34 studio for a Facebook Live interview. Some in the audience said they had work permits or pending green card applications, or had been granted permission by authorities to voluntarily leave the United States but had not yet reached the deadline before which they must do so. They asked if they should be worried. In each case, his answer was no.
“There are people worrying who shouldn’t be worrying,” Mr. Kuck said in a phone interview afterward.
After a brief stop at a Chick-fil-A, Mr. Kuck planned to meet with more clients, conduct a second Facebook Live interview, and attend a “Lights for Liberty” rally at Plaza Fiesta, a sprawling strip mall along Buford Highway, a corridor that is home to many Atlanta-area immigrants. As he continued to arm immigrants with information about their legal rights, he hoped to tame the panic that had spread throughout the region’s Latino communities.
“ICE isn’t driving up and down Buford Highway,” Mr. Kuck said. “They’re going to do targeted raids. I’d be shocked if Atlanta took more than a couple hundred people.”
Democratic lawmakers also rallied around immigrants, promising to protect their rights to due process and prevent as many arrests as possible. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said on Friday that the city would increase funding for legal protections for immigrant families, and reiterated that she had banned ICE from accessing Chicago Police Department databases related to federal immigration enforcement activities.
Harry Osterman, a city alderman whose far-north-side district includes many Latinos, emailed constituents on Friday evening with hotline numbers and information on what to do if they see ICE activity.
Gov. Gavin Newsom of California posted a video on Facebook informing immigrants of their rights. And Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young of Baltimore released a statement encouraging anyone who was arrested to avail themselves of the city’s public immigration defense fund.
The only immigrants who appear to be shielded from any deportation raids, for now, are those living in New Orleans — which is experiencing heavy flooding this week and is bracing for more, brought on by tropical storm Barry. Following the agency’s usual practice during extreme weather, ICE leadership sent a staff-wide email this week saying that agents would not conduct enforcement operations there during the storm.
Some undocumented immigrants have chosen to continue their routines as much as possible, in some cases a way to cope with the stress. When rumors first swirled about the latest round of immigration raids, said Geovani, 24, he didn’t panic about his family’s well-being. In a way, this weekend would be like any other for the undocumented family from Mexico, now living in Atlanta: home-cooked meals, hours lost on Facebook, down time shared among his parents and children.
Silvia Padilla has been living illegally in Los Angeles for 14 years. Her husband is also undocumented. She stressed multiple times that her family had never taken any government assistance. Her youngest child, Joshua, 1, is an American citizen.
News of the raids, Ms. Padilla said, is alarming. But it is a fear she has lived with for a long time. If ICE agents show up at their home, the entire family knows not to open the door.
This weekend, she still intends to take her children to the park and let them walk to the mall, and she plans to go to a doctor’s appointment with her husband.
“We’re going to go about our lives the same as we do. We have a lot of things to do. We’re leaving it up to God,” she said.
Veronica, the woman from Maryland who canceled her trip to Florida, is more uneasy. “Every time someone knocks, you get scared of who’s going to be behind the door,” she said. “Especially when you’re not expecting anyone.”
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