Living in terror of the knock on the door

Grassroots groups are organizing to protect undocumented immigrants.

Credit: Sasha PatkinAlbel, almost 4, from Virginia protests at the Families Belong Together march in Washington, D.C., on June 30, 2018.

In Passaic, N.J., a teenager refused to open her front door when awakened at 1 a.m., and hid with her parents through the small hours of the morning. In Houston,  Texas, a teenager’s post on Facebook alerted neighbors in a largely Hispanic community to the presence of four Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in fatigues and bulletproof vests. ICE agents were also rebuffed in Brooklyn, N.Y. In Nashville, a group of neighbors formed a human chain to help shield a father and son from ICE agents as they walked from their truck to their home.

In response to President Trump’s threats to deport undocumented immigrants en masse, immigrant rights organizations mobilized to inform immigrants of their rights, by spreading information sheets on social media, and passing out flyers out in particularly vulnerable communities. What’s more, they’ve been joined in this effort by Democratic politicians and presidential candidates: Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot was out distributing Know Your Rights flyers; multiple New York City lawmakers attended a rally protesting the raids; the Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore has provoked the ire of federal agents by standing with the L.A. mayor Eric Garcetti as he informed residents that they don’t have to open the door to ICE agents unless the agents have a warrant.

Although the massive raids never materialized as promised, immigrants are more informed and better prepared than ever. And bystanders are also more informed and angrier than ever.

“The unapologetic publicizing of these threatened raids activated a different level of consciousness for allies not directly impacted,” Ambien Mitchell, an advocate at the New Sanctuary Coalition in New York City, told The Huffington Post’s Angelina Chapin. “Citizens are more outraged now than ever.”

“Allies developed sophisticated tools on all ends,” Sarah Cullinane, the director of immigrant rights organization Make The Road New Jersey, told Chapin. “I think this new level of sophistication arises from the constant and repeated threat to immigrant lives.”

Activists have been preparing for these raids since June, when they were first announced by the Trump administration and then subsequently postponed. The L.A. Raids Rapid Response Network run by the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA) hands out copies of a judicial arrest warrant to immigrant families so that they can compare that text to the text of documents that ICE agents may hand them, to verify that the document is in fact a legal arrest warrant, CHIRLA’s Shannon Camacho told Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman. Adelina Nicholls, from the Georgia Latino Alliance of Human Rights, said that they have visited with or spoken to more than 25,000 people across the state.

However, knowing your rights has its limits. A widely-shared video of ICE agents breaking a car window and dragging out the occupant aroused widespread outrage, but subsequent reporting revealed that the agents had a warrant and acted lawfully. (Although that report did not address an eyewitness’ claims that the agents threatened to shoot her when she asked about a warrant.)

Even if the promised large-scale raids have yet to materialize, the constant threat has created a culture of fear and anxiety for immigrant communities and their allies. Undocumented people worry about going to work every day, but have no choice if they want to continue to pay rent and other bills.

“Raids didn’t happen this weekend to the scale people were expecting them, but just the fear of knowing it could happen, it really terrorizes and traumatizes people in neighborhoods,” Daniela Alulema, director of programs for the Center for Migration Studies in New York, told NorthJersey.com. “And that was reflected when you saw restaurants, churches and public places that are usually filled with people, they were just empty.”

Stacy Torres, a sociology professor, noticed a similar lull and depression in Oakland. “On the first day of planned immigration raids across the country last Sunday, eerie quiet settled over Fruitvale, the heavily Mexican and Central American neighborhood where I live in Oakland, Calif.,” she writes.

“Normally bustling places were deserted and somber. The feeling of a community holding its breath hung like a fog. Few vendors roamed the sidewalks selling raspados, ice cream and sliced mango. Missing were the mothers I glimpse from my porch walking with young children toddling alongside or babies expertly wrapped in cloth bound to their backs. The baseball diamond and playing fields of Brookdale Park remained empty. Finally, around 8:20 p.m., with the sky still tinged with faint light, the park filled with children and a group of men playing soccer on a neighboring field. The fog of fear had lifted, allowing everyone to burn energy pent up after a day of hiding.”

Although the threat of violence — the forced expulsion of immigrants is a kind of violence — may make some Americans feel big, places are being hollowed out whether people are forced to leave or not.

Jessica McKenzie

Jessica McKenzie is a freelance journalist in Brooklyn, NY. Previously, she was the managing editor of the civic technology news site Civicist and interned at The Nation magazine. You can follow her on Twitter @jessimckenzi.

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