BOSTON The Department of Homeland Security has begun a large-scale effort to deport people who have illegally crossed the southern border into the country within the last two years.
DHS says 121 people were taken into custody in raids last weekend in Georgia, North Carolina and Texas. The raids targeted adults and children who have crossed the United States’ southern border since 2014, and who have since been issued final orders of removal.
There are 89 individuals in Massachusetts who fall under this category, making them eligible targets for the DHS raids, according to federal data compiled by Syracuse University’s TRAC Immigration site.
“We’re talking about primarily women and children who were fleeing violence in Central America,” says Sarang Sekhavat, federal policy director at the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA).
Sekhavat says that ever since federal authorities revealed plans for the targeted sweeps, MIRA has been fielding calls from community members who are afraid to leave their homes, worried about being swept up in a raid.
“We met someone who said she didn’t go to work because she was terrified of what was going on,” he explained. “You know people see police officers at T stations and they assume they’re ICE officers. They might be keeping their kids home from school, all kinds of problems like that.”
“I go to work afraid because I honestly don’t know if I’m going to come back.”
That fear extends beyond people who have received final removal orders.
In a busy East Boston restaurant, a family that arrived in Massachusetts illegally two months ago shares their own concerns.
Twenty-year-old Henry says he’s on edge every time he leaves for his job in an area restaurant.
“When I go to work, I feel, especially in the last three days, I go to work afraid because I honestly don’t know if I’m going to come back,” he said in Spanish.
Henry and his 24-year-old sister, Ericka, say their family fled El Salvador after receiving death threats from gangs when the family couldn’t pay a $2,000 extortion fee.
“He always gives me a hug before he leaves and he says, ‘I’m going, sister. If I don’t come back, always remember me,’ ” Ericka said, her eyes swelling as she glanced over to her brother.
Because they’ve had no interaction with immigration officials, they are not targets for these latest DHS raids. (We agreed to use only Henry and Ericka’s first names because they are undocumented and fear for their safety, should they be deported back to El Salvador.)
Alex Peredo Carroll is an immigration attorney in Cambridge. She says since the targeted raids were first reported in late December, she’s been hearing from clients who are worried about their own status.
“I’ve gotten multiple calls from clients who are not the target of ICE at the moment, but they’re equally as afraid,” she said.
Carroll says that because none of her current clients have received final removal orders, they are not at risk of deportation through the current raids. But, she explains, it can be difficult to allay their fears nonetheless.
“They’re hearing that ICE is targeting women and children, they’re hearing that individuals are going to be deported, individuals with removal orders, and whether or not they’re understanding that they’re not being sought after, they still have that fear of ICE showing up at their door and coming to get them,” she said.
There have been no reported arrests made in Massachusetts. Local ICE officials declined to comment for this story, referring to DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson’s earlier statement on the matter.
Johnson said the nationwide enforcement operations should come as no surprise given the department’s enforcement priorities, which in some cases include families and unaccompanied children. Homeland Security says additional raids “will continue to occur as appropriate.”