by Elizabeth Elizalde
If you or someone in your family sees a white van with a Department of Homeland Security logo pull up in front of your house, don’t open your door or panic. Stay inside and call an immigration advocacy hotline for help: 1-844-363-1423. The person at the other end will walk you through what you need to do during a deportation raid.
This week, according to immigration advocates, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers raided the homes of undocumented immigrants from Central America who entered the U.S. in 2014 and 2015.
ICE officers appeared at churches, businesses and immigrant gathering places surveilling people they suspect don’t have documentation. Carolina Canizales, National Deportation Defense Coordinator for United We Dream, based in Texas, said her group confirmed raids in Georgia and Maryland and received calls about possible ICE activity in Houston and New York.
Officers placed immigrants under arrest and brought them to detention centers to await deportation.
Many of these immigrants came to the U.S. to flee gang violence, murder and sex trafficking in their home countries. More than 69,000 unaccompanied minors from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala found themselves detained after an often frightening journey to the U.S. The government deported some and others still have cases working their way through the court system.
Last year the Obama administration set up the Central American Minors/Refugee Parole Program to help reunite children, still in Central America, with their parents living legally in the U.S.
But the Obama administration also deported more than two million people since 2008. And the latest sweep troubles advocates, who worry that many immigrants don’t understand their rights.
“If someone tells you they’re a police officer and that you should let them in, ask for a warrant,” said Ryan Campbell, communications director for Dream Action Coalition, an immigration advocacy group based in Washington D.C.
WHAT TO DO
Campbell advises you to remain silent and request to speak to an attorney if you get arrested. “Pay attention to social media circles that report on where ICE raids are occurring and try to avoid them,” he said.
He told ConsumerMojo.com that it’s important to understand the difference between a criminal warrant issued by a federal court and a removal warrant issued by an ICE official. The removal warrant authorizes the ICE officer to arrest people but not to enter their homes unless given consent.
That means ICE officers can arrest people in public places or the street in front of a home, store or church. But they can’t enter a private residence, business or church without permission.
Several Central American families picked up by ICE during New Year’s weekend won a temporary stay. The CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project fought to halt deportation and appealed for asylum through the Board of Immigration Appeals.
But George Tzamaras of the American Immigration Lawyers Association told us these families remain detained at the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas.
Lawyers say ICE officers failed to produce warrants when they entered the homes. “These families have bona fide asylum claims, but were deprived of a meaningful opportunity to present them at their hearings in immigration court,” said Katie Shepherd, Managing Attorney for the CARA Project.
“It’s beyond shameful that these families, who risked everything to seek protection in the United States, were being forcibly returned to the violence and turmoil they fled in Central America. ” she said.
Homeland Security did not respond to our requests for a comment.