Hundreds of people showed up at the White House on Feb. 11 to denounce the Trump administration’s series of raids in recent days that targeted undocumented immigrants across the country, including in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York. Among the hundreds of people arrested in the raids were many with no criminal records.
As part of President Donald Trump’s shock-and-awe policy strategy during his first three weeks in office, the raids by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are creating uncertainty and fear in immigrant communities. Through traffic checkpoints and raids on people’s homes and workplaces, ICE agents, in collaboration with local police forces in some cases, have detained hundreds of people, including 200 immigrants in Georgia, 160 in Los Angeles and 44 in Austin, Texas.
The Obama administration’s aggressive policing of immigrants, marked by a record number of deportations during his two terms, earned the former president the label of “Deporter in Chief.” But rally organizers fear Trump will be even worse than Obama. “Under the Obama administration, we didn’t see ICE checkpoints popping up in cities. ICE is on the streets and terrorizing communities because that’s what they want to do,” Ambar Pinto, part of United We Dream’s Deportation Defense Program and one of the rally organizers, said in an interview. United We Dream advocates on behalf of immigrant youth.
Rally speakers led defiant chants, including “undocumented, unafraid,” “stand up, fight back,” and “here to stay,” in between telling stories of friends and family who are in the middle of deportation proceedings or who are living in fear of getting swept up in raids. Many of the rally attendees hold deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA) status, an immigration policy started in 2012 that allows certain undocumented immigrants who entered the country before their 16th birthday and before June 2007 to receive a renewable two-year work permit and exemption from deportation.
Activists Aim to Strengthen Deportation Defense Network
At the rally, activists highlighted plans to create a deportation defense network across the nation to help immigrants in fear of targeting by ICE raids. Organizers conducted role-play scenarios at the rally to educate people on how to react when confronted by ICE agents in their cars or homes. For example, at traffic checkpoints, one of the best defenses against arrest and detention when confronted by federal agents is to refuse to disclose one’s immigration status and to explain to the agents they do not have a legal right to demand identification or immigration due to lack of probable cause.
Pinto, who is undocumented but has DACA status, manages United We Dream’s deportation hotline. On average, the hotline would receive 30 to 50 calls a month from people with questions about ICE actions or potential deportation. In February, with Trump as president, the deportation hotline has already received 250 calls from people with questions, she said.
Obama greatly expanded the U.S. deportation apparatus. However, immigration rights activists are fearful Trump will use that deportation machinery with even greater efficiency. “We need to organize. We need to fight back. We need to create sanctuary spaces. We need to call him [Trump] out for what he is,” Pinto said. “People becoming more knowledgeable about the issue is great. But that’s not enough. So it’s very important that we, as a community, are united to be able to survive this next four years.”