Immigration raids were expected in major US cities on Sunday, a prospect that sparked anger, fear, protests and attempts to protect those in peril.
On Saturday night, New York mayor Bill de Blasio said in a tweet that Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or Ice, had mounted raids but had not succeeded in rounding up anyone in Harlem or Sunset Park in Brooklyn.
Like many other mayors the Democrat, who is running for the presidential nomination, has said his city will not cooperate with Ice.
On Sunday evidence of raids was scarce and Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services, would not confirm to CNN’s State of the Union whether the raids had begun.
Capturing dangerous criminals “remains the priority for Ice”, he said, adding: “Ice is protecting Americans [by] removing these criminals. Coming across the border illegally is a crime. [But] when we talk about prioritization for removal, we’re not prioritizing that.”
The Trump administration is trying to instil fear, and even if nothing happens, he’s accomplishing thatAmbar Tovar, United Farm Workers
Cuccinelli was asked what he would say to people like De Blasio who maintain that the raids are a political stunt.
“It is about keeping the community safer,” he said. “Just the expectations impose such a deterrent effect. What we call the ‘Trump Effect.’”
The raids were expected to target roughly 2,000 migrants in the US illegally but the prospect rippled terror through whole communities. Cuccinelli would not guarantee no parents would be separated from children.
In Atlanta on Sunday, advocacy groups and legal observers kept an eye on the streets. One lawyer told the Guardian Ice agents were in Clayton county, just south of the city, at 5am. Members of the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights met at its offices north of Atlanta, near the city’s migrant corridor, hoping to stream operations on social media.
Mario Guevara, a reporter for Mundo Hispanico with more than 300,000 followers on Facebook, was out early. He found only one undocumented woman, selling tamales. In her few months in Atlanta she had never seen Ice agents. She intended to work as usual, regardless of “rumors” of a raid.
A legal observer with Project South told the Guardian: “No news is good news.” According to legal and law enforcement sources, raids in Atlanta were likely to be spread through the week. One immigration attorney, Pamela Peynado Stewart, said one contact had been made on Friday.
“We recently learned that four Ice officers knocked at a single mother’s home on Friday at 8am for the sole purpose of arresting the mother and her two young children,” she said. “She had no crimes but did have an order of deportation in absentia from a few years back.
“The family states that the Ice officers left the home without making a single arrest and simply asked the mother to follow some instructions and appear at a supervision, which she fully intends on doing.”
In San Diego, Ice arrested 27 people in an “enforcement surge” over the last week, spokeswoman Lauren Mack told the Guardian. Twenty arrests were targeted and seven were considered “collateral”, meaning they may not be subject to deportation.
The arrests, Mack said, were not part of the raids Trump has promoted. Ice said 85% of those arrested had convictions or charges on their record, thereby suggesting it was detaining people with no criminal history.
Such “collateral” arrests added a new level of fear, said Sandra Cordero, director of Families Belong Together, based in Los Angeles: “It’s really really dangerous, because it just terrifies an entire community and allies and folks who have not been targeted before. It’s going to bring a lot of havoc to folks who happen to be in a location.”
Cordero said she had not heard reports of raids in LA but said communities were on high alert: “People are doing what they can to protect themselves.”
In northern California, activists said there had not been any raids in the Bay Area. But fear had spread elsewhere. Ambar Tovar, United Farm Workers’ directing attorney, said people were staying off the streets in the Central Valley, a region not on the rumored list of targets.
“The Trump administration is trying to instil fear and even if nothing happens he’s accomplishing that,” she said. “People are not willing to come out.”
Democratic leaders, churches, universities and others vowed not to help Ice. Across the country, undocumented migrants described plans to buy groceries, in anticipation of locking themselves indoors. Businesses which rely on migrant labor reported employees staying home.
“This administration’s deliberate terrorizing of immigrant families and communities grows worse every day,” Mary Bauer, deputy legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Immigrant Justice Project, told the Guardian.
“The continued mistreatment of children held in detention facilities, the attacks on our asylum system, and the assaults on immigrant communities through threatened raids show that this administration’s priority is terrorizing communities and not solving our nation’s immigration problems.”
The planned actions come on the heels of congressional testimony about “horrifying” conditions inside detention facilities at the southern border. On Friday, reporters with vice-president Mike Pence visited a station in McAllen, Texas, and described men held in cages in “sweltering” heat where the “stench was horrendous”.
Officials have floated the idea of using hotels to hold those seized, prompting one chain, Marriott, to say it would not allow its buildings to be used. Ice responded that it would be forced to separate families if it lacked capacity.
Trump first said his administration would conduct nationwide raids in June, only to postpone them. Opponents have had time to organize.
Lights for Liberty vigils were attended by the American Teachers Federation and sponsored by the Women’s March. Bridgette Gomez, director of strategic partnerships at Planned Parenthood, the largest network of not-for-profit reproductive health clinics in the US, said: “These raids are a cruel, racist and dangerous extension of the Trump-Pence administration’s already horrifying policies.”