MIRAMAR, Fla. - The advocates of migrants with deportation orders in South Florida are on high alert this week.
President Donald Trump warned earlier this week that agents' enforcement crackdown was going to start Sunday. The operation aims to net about 2,000 migrants who have not complied with final deportation orders in major cities, including Miami and New York.
Immigration authorities have begun conducting the raids, a senior administration official told CNN on Sunday. Experts say the Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids are usually executed early in the morning. There was no sign of any new detainees arriving at the ICE center in Miramar Sunday.
Adonia Simpson of Americans For Immigrant Justice said the large scale sweeps that a lot of people were anticipating haven't happened yet.
Simpson said enforcement is nothing new, but the pre-planned operation is unique.
"I think that’s what’s different about this instance, is there was so much notice which creates fear in the community and regardless what happens in the next few says, the mission is accomplished," Simpson said. "The community is afraid."
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted Saturday that the agents have already started detentions in his city. He sent a message to migrants: "If you or a loved one are approached by federal immigration enforcement in your home, on the street or in public, remember: You have rights and your city will help you fight for them."
Flavia Franco, an activist in Miami-Dade County, was among the volunteers helping to educate migrants who fear detention in South Florida. There are also groups of volunteers canvassing neighborhoods in Miami-Dade County to let people know there is legal assistance available.
"You have a right to remain silent ... and unless they have a deportation order, you have a right to not answer that door," Franco said.
Simpson said people being targeted are not criminals.
"They're people with final orders of removal and many of them have them becaus there was confusion about when to go to court and they may still have a valid claim to asylum for some sort of fear-based relief."
Saman Movassaghi Gonzalez, a Miramar-based immigration attorney, said during This Week in South Florida Sunday that she has had a lot of fearful migrants contacting her this weekend. She has advised them to avoid driving without a license and to not rush to open the door if agents show up at their home.
"I think it's really important for individuals to understand that they do have rights when ICE officers come to their door," Movassaghi Gonzalez said. "They do have rights not to speak to an ICE officer. They do have rights to contact an attorney. ... ICE officers need a judicial warrant to come in to arrest them."
Movassaghi Gonzalez said migrants are not obliged to open the door to allow ICE agents inside their homes unless the agents have a judicial warrant signed by a federal judge. Orders signed by immigration judges or Homeland Security employees do not qualify, Movassaghi Gonzalez said.
As churches increasingly become a source of support for migrant communities, a woman who works as a housekeeper in Miami's Key Biscayne said she and her family found shelter at her church. She said other church members who are not undocumented were also hosting families at their homes.
"We felt secure there. I couldn't sleep and I don't know if I will be able to sleep tonight but my children and my husband did," the housekeeper said in Spanish. "Our pastor prayed with us this morning and we know that with the help of God no one will separate us."
In Miami, Mayor Francis Suarez assured migrants that the Miami Police Department will not be involved in the raids. Business owners noticed Suarez's words of reassurance haven't stopped the migrant communities in Little Havana and Little Haiti from being on edge.
There was also fear in Miami-Dade County. New arrivals from Venezuela are most concerned. The American Civil Liberties Union is leading an effort to protect asylum seekers.
DACA recipients, whose migrant parents haven't been able to legalize their status, said they were also concerned On Friday night, some of them were among the hundreds of activists who met at the detention center for children in Homestead. Miami-Dade police officers were outside of the facility on Saturday and Sunday.
Homestead's farms and plant nurseries depend heavily on migrant workers. Jose Rosa, owner of the Razed Right barbershop in Homestead, said many of his clients are migrants, so he expects business to be slow this week.
"They are really worried about the situation," Rosa said.
Wilfredo O. Allen, a Miami-based attorney, said ICE raids happen all of the time, but the public-nature of this operation is affecting the local economy at every level. He said what is unprecendented with this operation is that federal authorities are talking about dividing families.
"In the past, they specifically targeted criminals," Allen said during This Week in South Florida. "But you will not hear them announcing we're going to pick up criminals. They will announce it after they have picked them up."
Simpson's team of over 50 attorneys is assisting migrants who ask the American Immigration Lawyers Association of South Florida and the Florida Immigration Coalition for help.
"We have phenomonal volunteers that are at the ready," Simpson said during This Week in South Florida.
For more information about migrants' rights or to get legal aid for someone you know, call the Florida Immigration Coalition hotline at 1-888-600-5762
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