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Across U.S., anxious families brace for Trump's announced mass immigration raids

“That is one of the scariest things not only my family has to face but others who are in this ICE raid situation,” a son of undocumented immigrants said.
Activists from Rise and Resist hold a silent vigil at Grand Central Station in New York City on July 8, 2019.
Activists from Rise and Resist hold a silent vigil at Grand Central Station in New York City on July 8, 2019.Gabriele Holtermann-Gorden / Sipa USA via AP

Antonio N., who recently graduated from a community college in New York City, has become very worried about his parents, who are undocumented. What happens, he is asking, if immigration authorities detain them, or even worse, deport them?

Antonio, who would not disclose his last name in order to protect his parents' identities, is one of more than 16 million people in the United States who live in families with mixed immigration status. These families are grappling with uncertainty and fear in the wake of the Trump administration's plans to conduct mass immigration raids Sunday.

Officials told NBC News they are targeting approximately 2,000 families in several cities — Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York and San Francisco.

“That is one of the scariest things not only my family has to face but others who are in this ICE raid situation,” Antonio told NBC News.

President Donald Trump first announced that Immigration and Customs Enforcement would carry out nationwide immigration raids last month. He later wound up postponing such efforts, giving people like Antonio additional time to better prepare for the worst-case scenario.

Antonio and his family have been reaching out to immigrant rights groups seeking guidance and following Spanish-language news outlets to get information to teach his parents about their rights and how they should interact with ICE officers. They've also been working on a family action plan that would be activated if immigration authorities detain his parents.

“We’re currently seeing what I can actually do to help my family,” said Antonio, the oldest of three children, all U.S. citizens. The family is inquiring about making Antonio the legal guardian for his younger siblings if his parents are gone. “I’d rather be the head of household for my entire family and work hard than to have us all separated by the foster care system. These are one of the things we have to worry about.”

Families seek help, prepare for the worst

Across the U.S., immigrants rights organizations like the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, also known as CHIRLA, have been experiencing a spike in calls for the past three weeks from people asking for help in the wake of possible massive ICE raids.

“Ever since June, we’ve been receiving a lot of calls from people and our partners about hosting more ‘know your rights’ workshops, teaching communities what are their rights during an interaction with ICE and encouraging people to outline a clear family plan in case this happens,” Shannon Camacho, who helps CHIRLA coordinate its Raids Rapid Response Network in Los Angeles, told NBC News. “We have been really preparing for these kinds of threats, since then.”

The Florida Immigrant Coalition, the largest statewide organization of its kind, said it's operating a deportation immigration hotline that is often used for immigrants to know their rights.

According to Thomas Kennedy, the organization’s political director, the hotline would normally receive 200 calls in a week. But now, they get 1,000 weekly calls.

Both the Florida coalition and CHIRLA have been distributing information in multiple languages including English, Spanish, and Creole (spoken by Haitians), as well as holding seminars or information sessions alerting people that if an ICE officer shows up outside their house, they should not open the door and remain quiet.

"If you do come into contact with an ICE agent, don’t give your personal information, don’t sign anything," Kennedy said.

The immigrant coalition in Florida is also gathering volunteers willing to offer sanctuary and refuge in their homes to people who are nervous about staying in their own homes.

While some families might feel more comfortable seeking refuge in places such as schools or churches — areas that are supposed to be off-limits for ICE agents — attorneys like Shiu-Ming Cheer of the National Immigration Law Center are suggesting people remain at home Sunday as possible raids are conducted in communities nationwide.

“People have less protections when they are in public spaces. At home, they can refuse to open the door,” Cheer told NBC. “If law enforcement shows up at your door claiming to be ICE, people should ask them for their ID to confirm that’s true and they should ask if they have a warrant signed by a judge.”

What to expect Sunday?

According to Cheer, it’s important to remind people that there are many structures already in place to grapple with the ripple effects of mass immigration raids.

“Our job is to make sure that they have what they need ahead of Sunday,” she said.

One of the structures she mentioned is the Raids Rapid Response Network that Camacho coordinates in Los Angeles with CHIRLA’s help.

Through the network, the organization plans to have “volunteer attorneys ready to go out to a processing center in case anyone gets taken to a detention center,” Camacho said about Sunday. “We are also discussing the possibility of a new strategy that would allow us to have attorneys on call or in high alert if there’s a need for additional help.”

As families continue to prepare for Sunday, Camacho was urging people to put clear family plans in place and assign a particular role each member should be responsible for if an immigration officer knocks on their door.

The group was urging families to have one person in charge of interacting with the ICE agent through a window or any other way that doesn’t require opening a door while another family member compiles the family’s immigration documents in one safe place in case someone gets picked up. The group was stressing the need for families to seek legal help and assign someone to be on call to care for any children who are left behind if their parents or guardians are taken away, according to Camacho.

One of the cities that was expected to be targeted Sunday was New Orleans. But city officials announced via Twitter that they confirmed with ICE "that immigration enforcement will be temporarily suspended through the weekend" and urged all residents to focus on preparations ahead of Tropical Storm Barry.