Planned immigration raids on a mass scale in 10 cities this weekend are not expected to target Waco, but local advocates are recommending caution and emphasizing individual rights.
The head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Friday portrayed an upcoming national operation targeting immigrant families as a routine effort that could capture about 200 people and detain them in hotels before they are deported.
“We have seen increased enforcement,” said Anali Looper, an attorney and director of the American Gateways office in Waco. “Though Waco’s not on the list, I do think people need to be careful. I don’t want people to shape their lives around the fear of a raid, but they do need to know what their rights are.”
The weekend’s operation will target people with final deportation orders in 10 major cities, including Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Miami, and predominantly focus on Central American families who have arrived at the U.S. border with Mexico in unprecedented numbers.
Matthew Albence, acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said the operation is similar to one in 2016 under President Barack Obama and another in 2017 under President Donald Trump. The Obama-era operation resulted in about 10% of those targeted being arrested, and the Trump effort had a lower arrest rate, Albence said.
Looper said her organization is staunchly opposed to mass raids of this kind for several reasons.
“We acknowledge that people that don’t have lawful status are subject to deportation, but we feel, as an organization, that mass arrests, mass raids, are just an atrocity,” Looper said.
She said those tactics, while explicitly stated to be targeting criminals, have a chilling effect on people without legal status, discourage them from contacting law enforcement to report crimes, and cause widespread fear, particularly among mixed-status families.
“This is just not the way to accomplish enforcement,” Looper said.
The operation, targeting 2,000 people, could yield about 200 arrests based on the outcomes of previous crackdowns. Trump has said on Twitter that his agents plan to arrest millions of immigrants in the country illegally.
The family operation will focus on 10 court dockets with large numbers of families that have arrived recently and been ordered to leave the country, but that does not mean arrests will limited to those areas, Albence said. Authorities will go where their investigations lead, even if it’s five states away.
“This family operation is nothing new,” Albence told the AP. “It’s part of our day-to-day operations.”
The operation will target entire families that have been ordered removed, but some families may be separated if some members are in the country legally. Albence gave a hypothetical example of a father and child in the U.S. illegally but a mother who is not.
“If the mother wants to return voluntarily on her own with the family, she’ll have an opportunity to do so,” he said.
An ICE press release dated June 24 states officers made 52 arrests throughout South and Central Texas over a four-day enforcement surge, and that 16 arrests took place in the “Austin/Waco” area. The press release lists four examples of men arrested, including one in Waco and one in Killeen, who have criminal convictions and either had received deportation orders or had previously been deported.
An ICE spokesperson said the agency does not break down arrests by specific area and did not clarify how many arrests took place in McLennan County. 13 of those arrested did not have criminal histories or prior contact with ICE. Looper said at least one Waco resident was a “collateral arrest.”
“Typically what happens is someone is being tracked by ICE because they have a prior deportation order,” Looper said. “ICE will follow that person to a public area, or stop them in a vehicle and begin to conduct an arrest.”
During the arrest, ICE officers will question other individuals about their identity and citizenship status, then potentially make further arrests, she said. While people have the right to remain silent, they do not always know it, she said.
“People answer the questions even though they don’t have a legal obligation to answer,” Looper said. “They could remain silent, but it’s scary when you’re with law enforcement and don’t necessarily know what your rights are.”
She said in individual cases, it is not uncommon for people to get caught in bureaucratic snags that prevent them from appearing in immigration court. In one case, a client of hers had shown up to court as instructed, but was told to leave by a clerk who incorrectly told him he did not have a hearing scheduled.
“That is so common,” Looper said. “There are people who aren’t trying to be malicious, but it’s such a complicated system and it’s not running smoothly. People get swept up in it.”
The McLennan County Sheriff’s Office did not return calls for comment.