President Donald Trump’s tweet that the United States will deport “millions” of undocumented immigrants next week has local immigration advocates seeking to delicately educate potential targets about their rights without creating panic.
Trump, a Republican, tweeted Monday that “next week ICE will begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States.”
ICE is the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, a part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The agency said in an email Friday to The Baltimore Sun that it was prevented for security reasons from offering “specific details related to ongoing enforcement operations before the conclusion of those actions.”
Elizabeth Alex, senior director of organizing and leadership at CASA, an immigrant advocacy group, called Trump’s tweet a “scare tactic.”
“They’re trying to cause hysteria in the community, so we’re trying to not feed that,” Alex said. “But we’re trying to educate people of their rights, but make sure that people are aware, and aware of their surroundings, and know what to do, and know whether or not they fall into one of these risk categories.”
Advocates and Democratic members of the state’s congressional delegation also worry that families fearful of arrest will stay home, missing doctor’s appointments, school, work and shopping for basic supplies.
"There's obviously a humanitarian issue,” said U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat. “A lot of people are going to start going underground, and that’s not good. It’s the community facilities, it's schools, it's hospitals, it's even going to the mainstream businesses.”
Freddy, a Guatemalan immigrant who’s been in Baltimore for four years, said he feels the fear daily. He and his wife are expecting their first baby, and he heard from his aunt that an ICE agent was seen driving around the community.
“The reality is that it's scary. It's scary to learn that they’re going after us as a Latino community just for not having papers, ruining the American dream that everyone has. It's hard,” Freddy said.
ICE said nearly 90 percent of the people it arrested in the 2018 fiscal year had criminal convictions or pending criminal charges.
“However, as the agency has made clear, ICE will no longer exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement,” the agency said in its statement. “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.”
Over the past decade, Maryland has seen the largest net gain of unauthorized immigrants among the states, according to a recent report from the Pew Research Center based on 2016 data.
Owing partly to its location in the densely populated Washington-New York corridor and a reputation among immigrants for being affordable, Baltimore is a landing spot for many families fleeing strife in their home countries or seeking better job opportunities or education in the United States.
As a result, many fear Baltimore will be a target of ICE raids.
“Diverse communities are vibrant communities, and we welcome immigrants and the vibrancy they bring to our jurisdictions,” said a joint statement issued by Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young and county executives Johnny Olszewski Jr. of Baltimore County, Steuart Pittman of Anne Arundel, Calvin Ball of Howard, Mark Elrich of Montgomery and Angela Alsobrooks of Prince George’s. All are Democrats.
Catalina Rodriguez-Lima, the Baltimore mayor’s liaison to immigrant communities, said she had received no official word of raids. Her office shared information in English and Spanish on its Facebook page, reminding people that the city funds lawyers for people taken into custody by immigration agents.
“We just want to be able to be with them and give them as many resources as possible to get through this process,” Rodriguez said.
She had been debating the best way to get information to people she expects are going to be wary about going out in public.
“To be honest with you, I don’t see people coming out of their houses,” Rodriguez said.
Baltimore Police spokesman Matt Jablow said Friday that he was not aware of any ICE activity planned in the city this weekend.
Officials at jails in Frederick, Howard and Worcester counties, which have agreements to hold ICE detainees, said they had not received any notification that they could expect an influx of detainees in coming days.
Trump pledged during his presidential campaign in 2016 to remove undocumented immigrants and build a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico. Supporters lauded his toughness on the issue, but his immigration policies have been criticized by many in Maryland’s overwhelmingly Democratic congressional delegation.
“President Trump’s immigration policies have gone from misguided and haphazard to inhumane and dangerous,” said Democratic U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. “For decades, the United States has prioritized law enforcement actions against those who pose a threat to our country. President Trump’s decision to throw that policy aside will not make our nation safer — it is designed to inflict fear and score political points.”
U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a southern Maryland Democrat, said Trump “is seeking to terrorize immigrant communities and threatening to rip families apart. Instead of working with Congress on legislation to address the serious immigration challenges facing our nation, the president is making our country less safe by not prioritizing resources or focusing on violent criminals.”
In Southeast Baltimore, CASA said it heard about potential raids from fellow advocates and media reports, Alex said. In response, the nonprofit organization has been using social media and visiting neighborhoods with large immigrant populations to tell people about their rights and hand out a hotline number.
A know-your-rights workshop is set for 6 p.m. Monday at the Enoch Pratt Free Library’s Southeast Anchor Library on Eastern Avenue and a bystander training session is planned for 6 p.m. Tuesday at CASA’s headquarters at 2224 E. Fayette St.
CASA also put a call out to various faith leaders in the community offering to host workshops for congregations or prayer groups.
“People are feeling vulnerable,” said Racel Micah-Jones of Centro de los Derechos del Migrante Inc., another immigrant rights group. “And so, we want to give them access to information in a way they feel comfortable, within secure communications channels, as opposed to large public workshops in person. We’re focusing on responding to the questions that are coming in and getting the information out to as many people as possible.”
Baltimore Sun reporters Jessica Anderson and Ian Duncan contributed to this article.