Baltimore’s immigrant communities on edge, but no ICE activity reported Sunday

Baltimore’s immigrant communities on edge, but no ICE activity reported Sunday
Adolfo Lazaro, 32, who is in the process of obtaining legal asylum after fleeing violence in Guatemala, was one of about 10 day laborers at Home Depot on Eastern Avenue on Sunday who said they had not seen any ICE activity but had heard about the threat of possible raids. (Thalia Juarez)

Adolfo Lazaro woke up Sunday morning determined to work.

Though Republican President Donald Trump has for days said a “major operation” to detain or deport undocumented immigrants would begin this weekend, the 32-year-old Lazaro arrived at the Home Depot in Southeast Baltimore promptly at 6:30 a.m., looking to make a wage remodeling or painting homes. The Guatemalan father of six fled violence in his home country and presented himself at a port of entry — a legal means of entering the U.S. — in McAllen, Texas, 10 months ago with his son, seeking political asylum.


“We’re here for necessity," he said. "If in our country we had the support of a president, mayor or politician we would be OK, but we don’t have support from anyone.”

He was one of few immigrants out Sunday, as the expectation of raids cast concern that kept many inside their homes. By afternoon, no significant ICE operations were reported in and around Baltimore. Immigrant advocates said that gave them some relief, but didn’t erase all fears.

“I don’t like the threats, but I’d rather them be empty threats than watch tons of people get hurt by them,” said Jared Jaskot, an immigration attorney in Baltimore.

Catalina Rodriguez-Lima, director of Democratic Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young’s office of immigrant affairs, said the Trump administration suggested raids could occur anytime between Sunday and Thursday. So, city officials continue to monitor the situation through partners, including CASA and the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition.

A spokesman for Republican Gov. Larry Hogan said state officials are in touch with state and local law enforcement agencies for information about any immigration enforcement activity.

Hector Garcia, CEO of Howard County-based Foreign-born Information and Referral Network Inc., said all remained quiet, although some federal agents were spotted Saturday around Ellicott City.

A video shared Saturday on the Facebook page Somos Baltimore Latino appeared to show ICE agents knocking on the door of a home in Ellicott City. The group said no one answered the door, and the agents left.

“Either they were just kind of showing their presence or kind of checking out the area, but nothing has happened yet,” Garcia said.

A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman declined to answer questions about any operations in Maryland, citing sensitivity of investigations and security of personnel. All appeared quiet at federal offices in downtown Baltimore where ICE agents work.

ICE officials said that in fiscal 2018, 90% of people arrested by the agency’s Enforcement and Removal Operations teams had either a criminal conviction or charge, were considered a fugitive and/or had illegally reentered the country after previously being removed.

“ICE prioritizes the arrest and removal of unlawfully present aliens who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security,” the agency said in a statement. “However, all of those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and — if found removable by final order — removal from the United States.”

Police officials in Baltimore and Howard County said they had not been made aware of any ICE activity.

Despite no sign of agents, in neighborhoods such as Highlandtown, home to a large immigrant population, streets were quiet.

As workers opened the Cinco de Mayo grocery store early Sunday, they wondered whether they’d get any business — or if shoppers would just stay home to avoid any brush with ICE agents.


“We see a lot less customers when there’s rumors that they are around these areas,” said Gabriela Mejía, who’s worked at the store for five years.

Even when there are rumors of raids, Mejía said families stock up on groceries and stay home. But she wished they didn’t have to.

“We’re here for necessity.”

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“A lot of people don’t come here to cause harm. There are a lot of people who care about their children,” Mejía said in Spanish, as tears filled her eyes. “I think if someone deserves to receive something like that then so be it. But there are people who just come to work.”

Efraen Morales was one of the few people at a laundromat on Highland Avenue around daybreak. The 20-year Highlandtown resident said he had heard of possible raids on social media but hadn’t seen anything yet.

“We hope nothing happens,” he said.

At St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Columbia, morning services were packed despite what the Rev. Leandro Fazolini described as a general fear among his parishioners that they “could be targeted.”

"People are scared and live in fear of being separated from their loved ones,” he said.

By late afternoon the threat of looming raids had seemed to diminished as some families gathered at Patterson Park to enjoy the inaugural Latin American Folklore Fest.

Organizers of the festival had hopes of bringing together a large group of people to celebrate the diverse cultures of Baltimore’s immigrant community. (Thalia Juarez/Baltimore Sun)

Organizers of the festival had hopes of bringing together a large group of people to celebrate the diverse cultures of Baltimore’s immigrant community through food music and dance, but felt that many people were discouraged from coming because of the threat of raids.

Maria Gabriela Aldana with Vive, the organizers of the event and a nonprofit that provides services to the immigrant community, said they received calls from people who said they had wanted to attend but didn’t feel safe.

“Unfortunately, we still live in a moment where a lot of the threats imposed by this administration impact us in a very deep way,” said Aldana. “We’re here to make a statement saying we’re not going anywhere. We’re here. We’re proud of who we are. We’re beautiful and we should have no fear in expressing who we are.”

Few laborers were looking for work along with Lazaro at the Home Depot on Eastern Avenue in Baltimore — fears of raids or not, many of them don’t work Sundays. But Lazaro said he couldn’t afford to take the day off, and wasn’t afraid to venture out for work because he doesn’t have a pending deportation order and has never been in trouble with the law, back home or in the U.S.

He said he is seeking political asylum after he said members of his family were murdered at the hands of gang members. The father of six fears for his life and that of his five children back home.

He said he agrees with Trump: People who have committed serious crimes should be deported.

But he stood up for immigrants like himself: “We’re not all like that. There’s more good people than bad.”

Baltimore Sun Media Group reporter Erin B. Logan and photographer Karl Ferron contributed to this article.