Weekend immigration raids prompting fear and rumors in SoCal

A screen capture from a video released in August 2015 by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, during a nationwide operation seeking immigration fugitives.
A screen capture from a video released in August 2015 by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, during a nationwide operation seeking immigration fugitives.
Charles Reed/U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

The arrests of Central American migrants that took place last weekend in Texas, Georgia and North Carolina are fanning fears in Southern California, where rumors of related immigration arrests are circulating with a vengeance - although immigration officials say they aren't true.

"My feeling is that something is happening," said Jorge-Mario Cabrera, with the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, or CHIRLA. "These many sightings wouldn't necessarily be coincidence...but by the same token, there is more awareness. And a little more activity because of social media." 

As a result,  advocates have been fielding calls about arrests from people in places ranging from the Central Valley to Huntington Beach, and in Chino, where witnesses told CHIRLA there were workplace arrests at a factory there on Tuesday.

But U.S. Immigration and Customs officials say they didn't make any arrests in Chino that day, and that any ICE enforcement taking place locally is just business as usual.

In an emailed statement, ICE officials said that "any enforcement actions taking place in the Southland at this time are part of the agency's routine, ongoing enforcement activities."

Tessie Borden of the Central American Resource Center in Los Angeles said it's been hard to pin down what's happening: "It's not clear to us that whatever ICE operations there have happened in Southern California have been targeted directly at Central American families, or have been part of this national effort," she wrote in an email.

Either way, immigrant advocates are holding press conferences and workshops for migrants who are afraid of being picked up. The out-of-state arrests last weekend were focused on recently-arrived migrants, including families, who arrived during a large wave of migration at the southern U.S. border after May 1, 2014, and who had since been issued final deportation orders.

In a statement Monday confirming the arrests, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson stated that at his direction, "additional enforcement operations such as these will continue to occur as appropriate."

Meanwhile, local immigrant groups and clergy have been scrambling to offer legal advice and even shelter; a group of clergy leaders plans to meet Friday to discuss plans for offering sanctuary to immigrants afraid of being home if federal agents come to the door.

Last week, one recently-arrived Central American woman told KPCC she has been ordered deported after mistakenly missing an immigration court date. She said she was worried about what might happen next. She's trying to have her asylum case reopened.

"If immigration, or any officer, arrests me and sees that I have a deportation order, they won't let me go," said Cessia, who lives in Ontario with her family and did not want her last name used. "Everything will be over." 

Some advocacy groups have been offering legal advice and know-your-rights workshops for immigrants.

"Their right is to not open the door to anyone," said Jorge-Mario Cabrera of CHIRLA, which plans to hold workshops weekly. "They can request a warrant."

But if an officer has an order with someone's name on it, he said, that person will have to comply.