ICE raids force immigrants to confront painful questions

Diego Cervantes

Consultations with my clients have taken a more somber tone since the expansion of the expedited removal rule. If a noncitizen comes in contact with Immigration and Customs Enforcement anywhere in the U.S., the noncitizen has the burden of proving that they have been in the country for at least two years or risk immediate deportation. An ICE raid can immediately separate families. In the Austin area, it is very possible that someone could get arrested and wind up in Mexico in the same day. 

What will happen to my children if I am arrested and deported the same day?

It is a difficult conversation; many parents do not feel comfortable broaching it. While certain parents who have spent at least 10 years in the U.S.  have the ability to fight deportation and try to obtain their legal permanent residence in court, most of the people I speak to do not have these protections. We have to discuss whether it is safe to drive through more conservative towns like Bastrop, Del Valle and Leander, where police departments are eager to cooperate with ICE for any infraction, like driving without a license. 

With skyrocketing housing costs in Austin, immigrant communities are being pushed out of Greater Austin and into these riskier areas. As the Aug. 7 raid in Mississippi shows, the possibility of an ICE raid is unpredictable and can have a cruel and far-reaching impact.  

While much of the conversation around immigration has centered on recently arrived noncitizens who are seeking asylum, the majority of the undocumented population I meet with have lived in the U.S. for several years, or even decades, and they often have children and grandchildren here. There is a widespread myth that simply marrying a U.S. citizen or having U.S. citizen children leads to a green card. The truth is, most of the people I speak to either have a complicated path to residency that often involves having to spend at least 10 years outside the U.S., or they have no possibility of ever obtaining a green card under current laws. Trump is not just “going after the bad ones”; he’s going after anyone and everyone. Humanitarian programs are going away. Now that any application can lead to an arrest and deportation, people are left with little choice but to stay in hiding. 

My job has become increasingly less about helping people obtain legal status and more about discussing hard truths. We discuss their rights and what they can do in the case of an ICE raid. Don’t sign anything without speaking to an attorney. If ICE comes to your house, they need a real warrant to come inside. Carry around tax returns and bills from the last two years to avoid immediate deportation. 

If they are deported, would they rather have their children stay in the U.S., or should the children come with them? The children are often U.S. citizens and would be noncitizens in the parent’s country, making access to healthcare and education difficult. If they stay here, is there a friend or family member with legal status that can take care of the children? Is there a plan to make sure the kids would be able to have continuing access to education and healthcare in the U.S.? Is there anyone else who understands your child’s special needs? Anyone else who can drive their mother to dialysis appointments? These questions weigh heavily and must be considered every time they have to drive to work or to H-E-B. People are terrified but must carry on for the sake of their family. 

Unfortunately, the conversation on immigration is centered on refugees and Dreamers, leaving many of our neighbors in the dark. An ICE raid or a simple traffic stop can turn their families’ lives upside down. 

Cervantes is an immigration lawyer for the Law Office of Karen J. Crawford.