Crackdown Sparks Fear in LA Immigrant Communities

As immigration agents step up raids in California, fear is widespread in the immigrant community.

Federal authorities rounded up more than 200 people in 122 workplace raids in Los Angeles last Friday, part of a nationwide effort by the Trump administration to target so-called sanctuary jurisdictions.

California became a sanctuary state January 1, barring police in most cases from asking people about their immigration status. President Donald Trump has threatened to withhold federal safety grants from sanctuary cities, and on Thursday he suggested withdrawing immigration enforcement agents from California to leave the state on its own in fighting criminal aliens.

“If we ever pulled our ICE out, and we ever said, ‘Hey, let California alone, let them figure it out for themselves,’ in two months they’d be begging for us to come back. They would be begging. And you know what? I’m thinking about doing it,” he said at the White House during a meeting on gun safety.

Withdrawing ICE runs counter to the strategy Trump’s administration has been pursuing since he took office. Last Friday’s raids followed earlier ones in northern California.

Immigration enforcement officers say more than half of those arrested in Los Angeles had felony convictions for serious offenses or for multiple misdemeanors.

Climate of fear

The raids are compounding a climate of fear say immigration attorneys who offer free services at a weekly legal clinic at Dolores Mission Catholic Church in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles.This community takes its name from an Irish settler and has been home to immigrant Jews from Eastern Europe, Russians and Japanese and now Central Americans.

“I think it’s important for people to inform themselves of their immigration eligibility, if there is any, of possible defenses if they are placed in removal proceedings, and we encourage obtaining this information from an immigration attorney,” said Yanira Lemus, supervising attorney with the Loyola Immigrant Justice Clinic of Loyola Law School that offers the weekly legal clinics.

One of those waiting to see a lawyer, Jorge Ramirez, came to the United States at 19 from Guatemala. “It was going to be one or two years,” he recalls. “And then one or two years became three years, and now it’s been 20 years.”

He has temporary legal status and hopes to make it permanent. “This is a land of opportunity,” he said. “You can get anything you want, but you have to work really hard, study, do the right thing.”

Others in this immigrant community worry about the upcoming end of temporary protected status for some immigrants from El Salvador, Nicaragua, Haiti and Sudan, which had been granted for those from countries experiencing conflict or disaster.

“There is a different range of emotions, from fear and anxiety and concern.Also a sense of resilience,” said Ellie Hidalgo, a pastoral associate at Dolores Mission Church and School.

She says many families have mixed status with U.S.-citizen children but parents or grandparents who are undocumented. Many of the families, she says, have known no home outside of the United States for several years or several decades. 

For the Trump administration, immigration roundups fulfill promises to remove criminal aliens and enhance the nation’s security.

Immigrant advocate Hidalgo says, “These measures… at a very literal level are tearing families apart.”

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