Washington – Connecticut’s immigrant rights advocates believe President Donald Trump’s plan for a sweeping wave of deportations will fall far short of its goal of “millions” of removals, but say they are prepared for what is expected to be a sharp increase in deportations next week.
Citing unnamed Trump administration sources, The Washington Post on Friday reported that the new ICE raids would begin before dawn on Sunday, focused on migrant families that have received deportation orders. This “family op” is slated to target up to 2,000 families facing deportation orders in as many as 10 U.S. cities, including Houston, Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles “and other major immigration destinations” the Post reported.
Constanza Segovia of Hartford Deportation Defense, a group established after Trump assumed office two years ago, said her organization and others are prepared to respond to an uptick in the detention of undocumented immigrants in the state, offering legal advice and other help.
“We want to make sure they have the information they need,” Segovia said. “Undocumented people also have rights.”
Segovia also said she wanted to prevent a “panic” in the immigrant community as the Trump administration shifts from border enforcement to greater inland enforcement of immigration laws.
“We are wary and prepared, but not panicked,” she said.
Acting Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) director Mark Morgan said this week that his agency is preparing for a new wave of roundups to apprehend and deport families with open orders of removal.
He said the operation will send a “powerful message” of deterrence to people in Central America considering journeying north to the United States.
“We are wary and prepared, but not panicked.”
Hartford Deportation Defense
Morgan said ICE will ramp up efforts to find and remove people who were placed in an expedited docket in the immigration court system but failed to report for their hearings. Those immigrants will be detained in their homes, work, and other places in their communities.
“We’ve tried and attempted to say, ‘Hey, come turn yourself in.’ But they have refused to do so. So we have no choice but to carry out our statutory mandated job,” Morgan said.
It’s not clear how many of the planned roundups of immigrants will affect the immigrant community in Connecticut.
ICE has about 13,000 agents nationwide, but the agency would not disclose how many of them are based in Connecticut. “Due to operational security, we are unable to confirm how many agents are in the state of Connecticut, said ICE spokeswoman Britney Walker.
However, since most ICE agents are in the nation’s large cities and many have been deployed to the border, Connecticut isn’t likely to have a large presence of federal immigration agents.
“I don’t expect a huge wave of ICE agents sweeping through Connecticut,” said Alok Bhatt, community defense coordinator with the Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance.
A limited number of ICE agents and limits on detention beds is expected to thwart Trump’s wish to deport “millions” of undocumented migrants.
Last year, ICE deported 256,000 people, the highest level since 2014. But federal officials have said it’s unlikely that much more can be done with existing resources. A bill is moving through Congress that would give ICE more resources, but it is not law yet.
Segovia, whose group helps pay legal help for immigrants through donations that are given to the legal fund, said Hartford Deportation Defense has a grassroots network that is prepared to provide other support for families who may be affected by the raids.
“The way we function is through word of mouth,” she said.
Not in crisis mode
Local police are prohibited from enforcing federal immigration law unless they have special training and permission, something that no Connecticut police department has. Yet immigrant advocates say local police help ICE in other ways, and a new state law, an updated Trust Act, won’t stop that cooperation.
The new Trust Act, which goes into effect on Oct. 1, aims to limit the circumstances under which law enforcement officers may disclose confidential information to a federal immigration agent.
The policies of Connecticut’s “sanctuary cities” like Hartford and New Haven that discourage police cooperation with ICE won’t be very effective in stopping the raids either, immigrant advocates say.
Bhatt said police officers tend to have a “fraternal” relationship with federal law enforcement agents.
“They are not supposed to help in arrests, but they can help in other ways,” Bhatt said,
Segovia said there are “countless anecdotal cases” of police making traffic stops, sometimes for suspected DUI, “and ICE picking up that person the next day.”
Still, ICE will be working largely on its own and Bhatt said he expects the agency to focus its removals on immigrants with criminal records or final orders of removal.
“They are the easiest targets for ICE,” he said.
But all undocumented immigrants are vulnerable to prosecution since the Trump administration removed guidance from federal law enforcement that prioritized who federal agents arrest and deport.
In 2014, President Barack Obama issued a directive to federal immigration authorities to narrow deportations to “hardened criminals,” those engaged in criminal gang activities and those who entered the United States no more than two weeks before and were detained within 100 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border.
But the Trump administration issued directives that say immigrants who are in this country for many years are now subject to expedited removal. The directives also scrap the 100-mile limit, meaning those living anywhere in the country, including Connecticut, can be targeted for immediate deportation.
“People are picked up every day,” Bhatt said.
And Segovia said “people who have been here for a very long time are now under deportation orders.”
Having responded to a sharp increase in immigration enforcement in Connecticut, immigration advocates say they are ready for any escalation.
Bhatt said immigrant advocates are on alert for the impending raids, but not in crisis mode.
“Right now we are just treating it as a viable threat,” he said. “But if something happens, we will be prepared.”