COLUMBUS — Although no Ohio cities are named on a list of about a dozen places likely to be subject to immigration raids starting Sunday, many of the state’s estimated 107,000 undocumented immigrants are fearful, local immigration attorneys and other advocates said Friday.
Many are afraid to leave their homes because they are scared that Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers will arrest and deport them. Others have been calling advocates and attorneys at all times of the day and night in recent weeks with their questions. And some have worried themselves to the point of needing counseling, advocates say.
“It’s just a very dangerous time,” said Veronica Dahlberg, founding executive director of HOLA Ohio, an immigrant advocacy organization based in Painesville.
President Donald Trump fueled their fears when he tweeted last month that ICE would “begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States. They will be removed as fast as they come in.”
The raid was then postponed due to opposition from Democratic lawmakers, immigrant advocates and homeland security officials, but is now slated for this weekend.
”It starts on Sunday, and they’re going to take people out and they’re going to bring them back to their countries,” Trump told reporters Friday. ”Or they’re going to take criminals out, put them in prison, or put them in prison in the countries they came from.”
His administration has said that the raids are important to control the humanitarian crisis at the U.S.-Mexican border.
ICE officials said 90% of undocumented immigrants arrested during the federal fiscal year from October 2017 to September 2018 had criminal convictions, pending criminal charges, were ICE fugitives or illegally reentered the country after being removed. The agency prioritizes arresting people in those categories as well as those who “pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security,” ICE said.
Officials have said they hope to arrest at least 2,000 immigrants over the weekend whom the Trump administration says are in the country illegally.
Ohioans’ fears aren’t displaced, even without having any cities on the list of targeted cities, Dahlberg said.
“ICE isn’t going to tell you they’re going to such and such small town,” she said. “They’re just being ensnared everywhere … Because we are an agriculture state, it’s very easy.”
She said her immigrant advocacy group helped undocumented immigrants arrested in two large workplace raids in northern and northeastern Ohio last year.
The raids at Fresh Marks in Salem, Massillon and Canton and Corso’s Flower & Garden Center locations in Sandusky and Castalia were among the biggest raids in the region, ICE officials have said. Dahberg said nearly 300 people were incarcerated from those raids and about 400 Latino children were affected by one or both of their parents being arrested.
Ohio has the third-highest rate of community arrests by ICE, according to a recent report by TRAC, a Syracuse University clearinghouse, which gathers and analyzes data on immigration from government agencies.
From October 2016 to May 2018, ICE arrested 1,215 undocumented immigrants in Ohio. Behind only Pennsylvania and Michigan, Ohio’s arrest rate was 11.4, meaning about 11 of every 1,000 undocumented immigrants were arrested by ICE.
Ohio immigration advocates and attorneys are warning clients to be prepared if approached by immigration officials and are asking residents to call their lawmakers and tell them to stop the raids and arrests.
Dahlberg said HOLA posted the phone numbers of Ohio’s congress members on its Facebook page.
“We need our community with us,” she said. “Speak up for people hiding in fear.”
Virginia Nunes Gutierrez, executive director at Avanza Together, a Columbus nonprofit group that helps people facing deportation, said it’s important for undocumented immigrants to keep living and not go into hiding. “Surviving trumps the fear,” she said.
Columbus immigration attorney Jessica Rodriguez Bell said she talked with concerned clients when Trump initially announced the deportations would happen but continues to help people with their concerns.
“I think Trump is just trying to make a statement and get everyone’s attention, and if he can’t with big cities, he’ll move on,” she said. “We’re just not really sure what to expect.”
Advocates are telling undocumented immigrants that ICE cannot enter a home without a warrant. But once an immigrant opens a door, they say, immigration officials can come inside and anyone who is undocumented can be arrested.
Dahlberg also encourages clients to store their important paperwork in one place and memorize vital numbers in case they are arrested.
Yet dealing with the fear is the worst part, everyone agrees.
“It’s hard to put into words the affect it’s having,” Dahlberg said, adding that she knows one woman who has become physically ill because she’s so scared.
The fear “has a tremendous impact on the health and well-being of families and children,” she said.
Information from The New York Times was included in this story.