Authorities in the United States have launched small-scale operations to arrest undocumented immigrants over the weekend in an apparent start to President Donald Trump’ s vow to launch mass deportation round-ups across the country.
Federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents were expected to conduct raids in at least 10 major cities on Sunday, with plans to arrest about 2,000 undocumented migrants who entered the US recently.
The operation appears far more modest than the “millions” Trump had promised would be detained and expelled when he first mentioned the raids last month.
Matthew Albence, ICE’s acting director, would not confirm any operational details on Sunday, but defended the need for the raids.
“We are doing targeted enforcement actions against specific individuals who have had their day in immigration court and have been ordered to be removed by an immigration judge,” he told “Fox News Sunday.”
“We are merely executing those judges’ orders.”
Activists patrolled the streets of several of major cities to document any arrests and offer assistance to anyone detained. But while there were scattered reports of possible ICE activity, there were no signs of a large-scale sweep.
The removal operations are meant to deter a surge in Central American families fleeing poverty and gang violence in their home countries, with many seeking asylum in the US.
Immigrants and their advocates were on standby for mass arrests, but by Sunday night there were only reports of low-profile operations in a few cities.
‘Lights off, blinds down’
Mary Bauer at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) said there were no confirmed operations in large southern cities such as Atlanta.
“Immigrants and immigrant communities all over the country are in hiding and people are living in these terrified, terrorised ways, because that is the point of this whole action, whether enforcement actions take place or not,” said Bauer, the SPLC’s deputy legal director.
There were no reports of arrests from the American Immigration Council, which has lawyers on standby to give legal advice at the country’s largest family migrant detention centre in Dilley, Texas.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said there were three ICE operations in his city on Saturday, with no reported arrests. He said there was no ICE activity in New York on Sunday.
“This is a political act by this president, he’s politicized a United States government agency to help him win re-election,” said de Blasio, a Democratic candidate for the 2020 presidential race.
In Denver, the Colorado Rapid Response Network of immigration activists said there were unconfirmed reports of ICE or police detaining three people on Sunday in the Potter Highlands area.
The Miami-based Florida Immigrant Coalition said immigrants were sheltering at home after ICE agents were seen near the city’s international airport. No arrests were reported.
“They’ve been stocking up on groceries and making plans to stay in their homes with the lights off and the blinds down,” the group posted on Facebook. “Some are staying home from work.”
Al Jazeera’s Gabriel Elizondo, reporting from Washington, DC, said those likely to be targeted by the raids were living in uncertainty.
“It seems the raids are not happening in a widespread manner like President Trump said it was going to happen. Still it has a chilling effect throughout immigrant communities in the US. Many migrant families are staying away from their houses or staying in their houses,” he said.
“We have heard for example from New York where a suburban park which is generally crowded at the weekends was deserted.”
Some city officials and pro-migrant groups have sought to educate those who might be targeted about their rights.
If “someone comes to your door,” Atlanta Mayor Keisha Bottoms said on CNN, “please don’t open the door unless they have a warrant.”