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San Diego immigrant communities preparing for increased enforcement after Trump tweet

President Donald J. Trump, meets with Gloria Chavez, the Chief Patrol Agent, El Centro Sector for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, at border wall, April 5, 2019, in Calexico, Calif. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

San Diego’s immigrant communities are bracing for another round of ramped-up enforcement after President Donald Trump promised action as soon as next week.

Trump wrote in a tweet Monday night that Immigration and Customs Enforcement would “begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States.”

“They will be removed as fast as they come in,” Trump said, praising Mexico for taking actions to enforce its southern border.

Immigration officials have been developing a plan aimed at sweeping up and deporting thousands of migrant family members in U.S. cities who were ordered to leave the country after their cases were evaluated by immigration judges.

Lilian Serrano, chair of the San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium, said she’s already heard from community members in North County who are worried about what might happen to them or their families if the president’s plan becomes reality.

“This is a community that has been living in fear for so long,” Serrano said. “With this new threat, we know already it’s going to create another wave of chaos in our communities.”

Serrano said her first reaction to the president’s tweet was that it would be nearly impossible for the government to deport that many people in such a short time frame. Still, she worried about the families that would be caught up in the enforcement effort.

“Every time there’s a new change or a raid or wave of enforcement that gets out on the streets, families are being separated, and every time there is even one child who is going to go to sleep without a parent home, that’s something we should all be worried about,” Serrano said.

She wants to be able to tell her community not to worry, to calm fears, but she said she can’t tell people that everything will be OK.

In San Diego County, where one in four residents is foreign-born, many families are of mixed immigration status, raising concerns that family members will be separated by the enforcement operation.

While ICE officials argue that adults in the U.S. without permission who have been given a final order of removal should be deported quickly, the idea of rounding up and deporting those who have children in the United States has been fraught for years. Many families include an unauthorized parent and a U.S. citizen child who cannot be deported.

Edward Orendain, an immigration attorney in San Diego, said he’s worried that some of his clients might be affected by the focus on people with prior removal orders.

His clients aren’t hiding, he said, but rather have been given permission by immigration officials, because of humanitarian reasons, to put off their deportations as long as they check in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement periodically.

“They’re not out there committing crimes. They’re not hiding from the law,” Orendain said. “They’re reporting to immigration officers whenever they are required.”

He said his clients have two main worries because of the announcement — whether ICE will come to their home or work to arrest them and what will happen the next time they’re scheduled to check in with the agency.

One of those clients is a mother to a U.S. citizen child who has severe developmental and medical issues, Orendain said, that require constant monitoring and treatment. The woman has been checking in with ICE since 2012 so that she can stay in the United States and take care of her son.

In recent days, ICE has bulked up the branch responsible for carrying out deportations in preparation for the mass arrests, two Department of Homeland Security officials said on Tuesday.

ICE has requested that agents in Homeland Security Investigations — the branch of the agency that conducts long-term investigations into human trafficking and drug smuggling — assist Enforcement and Removal Operations, which deports unauthorized immigrants, according to the two officials.

They said the nationwide reallocation of resources was rare and a sign that ICE would soon be conducting mass arrests.

But agents were not clear what specifically Trump was referring to in his tweet on Monday, which came less than 24 hours before he appeared in Florida at a rally to launch his 2020 re-election campaign.

On Tuesday afternoon, Trump repeated that immigration officials planned to conduct a deportation operation next week. “They know. They know,” Trump said as he left for the Florida campaign event. “They’re going to start next week and when people come into our country and they come in illegally, they’ll have to go out.”

But immigration laws prevent the Trump administration from immediately deporting asylum-seeking Central American families, which make up a majority of the migrants arrested at the border.

The plan for raids has led to upheaval at DHS in recent months. Ronald Vitiello was removed as ICE chief in April when he raised concerns about the readiness of the plan for raids. White House frustration with the reluctance to perform the operation also contributed to the ouster of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

Peter Nunez, a San Diegan who has supported Trump’s immigration policies, welcomed the plan to focus on people who have already been ordered deported.

“If we want to stop illegal immigration we have to stop rewarding it, and we have been rewarding it for decades by refusing to deport people who have already been ordered deported,” Nunez said. “Enforcement of our immigration shouldn’t stop at the border, but must be implemented in the interior of the country, by locating, arresting, and deporting those who have managed to evade arrest at the border, or who have overstayed their visas and are now in the country illegally.”

Nunez, a former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of California, is chairman of the board for the Center for Immigration Studies, a group that supports greater restrictions on immigration. Unlike some of the president’s other policies that have been blocked by courts, Nunez hopes this one would be fairly straightforward to implement.

“It seems to me to be a no-brainer,” Nunez said. “If you’re smart, you start with the easy ones.”

ICE officials have changed their minds multiple times in recent days about when to begin the operation to target families, according to one of the homeland security officials. The agency has long been hesitant about such raids because of the bad optics they generate.

On Tuesday afternoon, ICE released a statement saying it was committed to enforcing immigration law, including “routine targeted enforcement operations, criminals, individuals subject to removal orders and work site enforcement.”

This month, in his first extensive comments with reporters as ICE’s acting director, Mark Morgan told reporters that the agency would increase efforts to deport migrants who missed a court hearing or otherwise received a deportation order.

He specified that this would include families, a sign that the agency was preparing to give in to White House pressure to raid migrant families’ homes and neighborhoods.

Pedrio Rios, director of the American Friends Service Community U.S./Mexico Border Program said the best thing immigrant communities can do is get organized and educated about rights that people having when faced with an enforcement operation.

“That fear factor really paralyzes people, and they change their routines in a way that’s detrimental for them,” Rios said. “Overcoming that fear is a very important step to realizing that person is able to make a change in their life and is able to organize and is able to defend their basic human rights and human dignity.”

Kate Clark of Jewish Family Service of San Diego, a core partner and lead legal service provider of the San Diego Rapid Response Network, said the group has contacted Casa Cornelia Law Center, Catholic Charities of San Diego, Immigration Justice Project and the Legal Aid Society of San Diego, to ask attorneys for consultations in cases where ICE conducts operations.

She said SDRRN’s 24-hour emergency hotline will be staffed at 619-536-0823. Their website address is

The American Civil Liberties Union was promoting on social media its own know-your-rights tool, which is available in 14 languages and guides users through a variety of scenarios, such as when “Police or ICE are at my home” or “Law enforcement asks about my immigration status.”

Know-your-rights presentations were planned in California and other states in the coming weeks to remind people of their right to refuse entry to ICE officers who do not have a search warrant, as well as their right to remain silent if they encounter an officer on the street.

The materials and training sessions said that those who have already been arrested have the right to speak to a lawyer — though the government is not required to provide one — and to tell immigration officers if they fear torture or persecution in their home country in order to invoke their right to apply for asylum.


© 2019 The San Diego Union-Tribune

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.