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Fear of ICE raids leads some U.S. citizens to carry their passports

"I’ve been carrying a passport since the day [Trump] was elected," said the American spokesman for a Latino organization.
Image: ICE Arrests Undocumented Immigrants In NYC
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers arrest an undocumented Mexican immigrant during a raid in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn in New York City on April 11, 2018.John Moore / Getty Images file

With immigration raids expected to begin Sunday in at least nine major cities, some U.S. citizens are taking precautions, including carrying their American passports at all times, to avoid being mistakenly detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

The wary Americans, often Latinos, said they don't want to get swept up in the planned roundups announced by President Donald Trump.

"I was born in this country," said David Cruz, communications director for the League of United Latin American Citizens. "I’m a third-generation Texan. I’ve been carrying a passport since the day he was elected."

Passports, used by international travelers to return to the United States, are legal proof of citizenship.

A Los Angeles journalist from Latin America, who did not want his name used out of fear his passport would be flagged, said he began carrying the document with him this weekend. Naturalized in the 2000s, he said recent stories of citizens mistakenly detained by ICE made him think he could be wrongly targeted.

He said it poses a particular quandary for naturalized citizens with accents because ICE agents may believe they are in the U.S. illegally and not afford them the rights of Americans, including due process, access to a lawyer and leaving their homes without proof of citizenship.

"It’s creating a two-tier system with second-class citizens, people who can be detained without access to a lawyer unless they’re carrying a federal ID," the journalist said.

"I was pointing out to my friends, hey, here’s my passport, and I’m carrying it for the first time because I don’t want someone to stop me to say, 'Prove you're a citizen right now or we’ll throw you in a cage,'" he said. "I'm literally worried about my pets and about paying my rent."

Linda Gamboa, a Chicano artist based in Los Angeles who was born in the United States, said she began carrying her passport about the time Trump was elected.

"I was just telling a friend how I was carrying mine three years ago" when Trump started ramping up his immigration enforcement rhetoric, she said.

Los Angeles resident Guadalupe Acuña said her husband, noted Chicano studies Professor Rodolfo Acuña, has encouraged her to renew her passport because of escalating immigration enforcement by the Trump administration.

"Morally speaking, I don’t think anyone should have to carry these papers, but that's where we're going," she said.

Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said he is not surprised that some Americans are toting around their passports in their own country.

"I don’t think any of us want to live in a country where people feel they have to carry their passports all the time because of their race," he said. "The track record of ICE and immigration enforcement is not good. I can understand why someone would do that."

Even Americans without Latino heritage are grabbing their passports this weekend.

Tori Griffin, who is African American and a community leader in Atlanta, said he recently put his passport in his backpack in case ICE agents asked him for proof of citizenship.

Atlanta is among the cities ICE plans to target Sunday, and Griffin said his neighborhood is home to many Latino immigrants.

"I consider myself to be as American as apple pie," he said. "But in this environment, in this Trump world, if you’re not white, you’re considered other. That’s how polarizing it’s gotten."

Clarissa Martinez, deputy vice president of policy for the Latino advocacy group UnidosUS, said in an email that "immigration enforcement is too often used as an excuse to harass this community as a whole, as we have seen from stories of citizens being questioned and detained.

"It's tragic that because of the color of their skin, people feel they have to carry a passport," she said.