BY ESTHER YU-HSI LEE – – – –
Since early January, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency has been conducting a series of deportation raids to apprehend immigrant women and children and send them back to Central America. The raids have left Latinos across the country afraid to leave their homes, sometimes forgoing doctor’s appointments and skipping classes at school.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said this month that ICE agents will continue those immigration operations. But he also reiterated an ICE policy to avoid arresting immigrants in sensitive locations, like churches, hospitals, and schools.
However, there’s some evidence that ICE agents may be trying to work around these policies. Immigrants affected by the raids have echoed similar stories of ICE agents who entered their homes under less-than-legal circumstances.
Here are just a few dubious ways in which ICE agents have tried to apprehend immigrants in recent weeks:
1. Pretending to look for a wanted person.
ICE agents intercepted Rene — who requested for his last name to be withheld — in early January at his home. They said that they were looking for a wanted man and needed to take a look in his house to see if anyone there matched their photo. Agents then entered his home to take his sister, a recent Central American border crosser, and two of her children. They were detained and flown to a family detention center in Texas.
2. Pretending to look for a woman’s partner, then arresting her in front of her children.
According to Al Punto, a Spanish-language news program, immigration agents stopped a woman and said they were looking for her partner, who may have been involved in trafficking undocumented immigrants. But they ended up reaching into her car and dragging her out of the driver’s seat as her children screamed and cried in the backseat.
One of her children recorded footage of the exchange. In the last scene, the woman was seen being held to the ground, handcuffed by two officials. Two of her three underage children were also handcuffed, then later released to their grandmother.
3. Luring an immigrant out of a church using fake text messages.
Reynold Garcia, an undocumented Mexican immigrant, had his home raided by ICE agents, who took away his wife and two children. The next day, which Garcia was sitting in church services, he received chilling text messages that appeared to be from his cousin Noel. The texts said that Noel had been involved in a car accident and that he need Garcia’s help. An officer called to confirm the accident, and after Garcia exited the church, people who appeared to be local police waved him over to a nearby restaurant. It was only after Garcia entered the unmarked car that witnesses said they realized the men were actually ICE agents.
4. Arresting children off school property.
Nineteen-year-old Wildin David Guillén-Acosta was arrested in front of his North Carolina home as he was leaving for class in late January. In response, the Durham Public Schools Board of Education passed a resolution asking ICE to stop detaining students. “We’ve had a very large drop in attendance,” Ellen Holmes, a Spanish and ESL teacher, said in the press release. “Students are no longer coming to school because they no longer feel it’s safe.”
Kimberly Chavez Pineda, 18, was also pulled over by a car with flashing lights on her way to school with a friend in Georgia, according to a Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) press release. Chavez Pineda was taken into custody and is now awaiting court proceedings at the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Georgia, facing deportation despite her pending asylum petition.
As the SPLC indicated in its press release, ICE agents have recently “focused on young people who arrived in the United States as unaccompanied minors but have recently turned 18 and no longer have the special protections of this immigration status.”
“ICE must stop these latest raids,” said Eunice Cho, SPLC staff attorney. “They raise serious questions over whether ICE is even following their own guidelines. Instead of targeting young people and families in these senseless raids, including those with valid claims to immigration relief, the United States must adopt a humanitarian approach to the refugee crisis in Central America that has sparked this migration.”