Parks and other gathering areas in the immigrant enclaves of East Boston were desolate Sunday, Patricia Montes observed, as many braced for federal immigration raids that were largely delayed after news reports tipped off immigrant communities about what to expect.
“We hope nothing is going to happen,” said Montes, executive director of the immigrant rights group Centro Presente. “We know some members are at home because of the raids and are even afraid to go to church.”
ICE had announced that it would target 2,000 undocumented immigrants in 10 major cities: Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, and San Francisco.
The plan to fan out in unison across immigrant communities Sunday morning was changed at the last minute because of widespread publicity, according to several current and former Department of Homeland Security officials.
Montes said the raids help keep President Trump’s supporters angry about immigration and that discussing racially charged topics is better for the president’s political strategy than talking about topics like the economy or infrastructure issues.
Although Boston was left off the list of cities, and only a handful of arrests appeared to happen Sunday, many immigrants nationwide and in Boston remain on edge, advocates said.
Montes said an undocumented East Boston mother of three was so scared of the announced raids that she almost didn’t go out to buy medicine for her sick 1-year-old child. The woman, a member of Centro Presente, already has a deportation notice, and one of her children recently was temporarily held in a detention center, Montes said.
Diego Low, director of the Metrowest Worker Center, said he received many calls over the three days leading up to Sunday and was asked about what the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement activity meant and how they should deal with the ramped-up campaign.
“People interpreting what I describe as the usual level of ICE activity as part of the raids is . . . a reflection of the fact that there was a public announcement of the raids,” Low said.
“[Immigration arrests are] a regular drip, drip, drip, so if they’re doing exactly what they say they’re doing, I wonder how much of a spike in detentions 2,000 actually is,” he added. “Not that I want them to — not that I’m challenging to spike it — but I just think maybe the point is something else.”
Low added that even arrests last Tuesday were interpreted as part of the raids, although deportations have been a regular occurrence for years.
What is different this time is that the most recently announced raids are targeting children as well as parents, while previous raids targeted undocumented adults. Even so, in most such ICE operations in the past, only 20 percent to 30 percent of the targets were apprehended.
“During Obama, the overwhelming majority of enforcement actions targeted criminal aliens,” said John Cohen, former acting undersecretary at the Department of Homeland Security during the Obama administration. “This operation apparently specifically targets families who for the most part present no risk.”
Cohen said the raids were impractical and not likely to improve the situation at the border — where holding facilities have been overrun recently, and as a result, migrants have been living in substandard and sometimes unhealthy conditions.
As the Trump administration continues aggressively pursuing undocumented immigrants, advocates are informing them of their rights and offering support where they can.
“We let people know that if they have problems and hear something, they have cellphones and can send us messages at any moment; they all know what to do if something happens,” Montes said. “We’re just waiting for our members.”