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Mar 17, 2017
Listen Unauthorized immigrants fear arrest during daily lives
Mar 17, 2017
For the first time, after about 16 years living in the United States without authorization, Maria fears a knock at her door.
"It's been traumatic for the children because now anytime they hear a knock on the door they say, 'Don't open it. Don't say anything.' Because it could be the police," she said.
Maria said her 7-year-old son has been especially upset since the election of President Trump.
"The first few days after he became president, my son didn't want to sleep alone in his own bed," she recalled. "He'd say, 'No, I want to sleep with you.'" The boy thought that would keep his parents from being deported.
Trump has said he plans to deport 2 million to 3 million undocumented immigrants, focusing on people with criminal records.
In communities around the Twin Cities and other parts of Minnesota, people know the feeling Maria described. There's growing fear of deportation among unauthorized Latino immigrants — even among people whose only violation is that they are in the U.S.
It's estimated that there are about 85,000 to 100,000 unauthorized immigrants in Minnesota, state demographer Susan Brower said. About half of them come from Mexico.
Trump's aggressive immigration enforcement has many unauthorized immigrants afraid they could be arrested as they work, play, drive and otherwise go about their daily lives. For this story, MPR has agreed to use only their first names.
Maria and her three children hear a lot of scary talk — some true, some not. The stories often involve Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents arresting unauthorized immigrants simply because they're in the wrong place at the wrong time when ICE is looking for a specific person. Agents will ask people for IDs and apprehend bystanders who lack proper authorization.
The Obama administration discouraged such so-called collateral arrests. But immigrants fear they are on the rise.
ICE would not say whether it has picked up the pace of arrests of illegal immigrants nationally or in Minnesota. Nor would the agency disclose how many arrests it has made overall.
• Last week: ICE arrests 86 in 5 Midwestern states
ICE insisted it is not randomly arresting people or targeting places where people eat, shop or otherwise gather as part of their daily lives. ICE says it generally avoids arrests at sensitive locations, such as schools, places of worship and hospitals, and during events such as funerals and weddings.
Immigration attorneys said that while ICE used to cut some slack for unauthorized immigrants who stayed out of trouble, that practice has changed.
"A lot of my clients are scared to leave the house, and rightfully so, because you don't know what's going to happen," said Iris Ramos, a Minneapolis immigration lawyer.
She said ICE may detain anyone who has "committed any act that constitutes chargeable criminal offenses. Entering the country without any documents — that is a potentially punishable crime."
Another unauthorized immigrant, Karina, echoed the fear of being swept up by ICE out of the blue. The Mexican native has been in the U.S. illegally for a dozen years.
"I had never had this much fear," she said. "You hear about everyone being afraid to drive, to take their kids to the bus stop."
Such fears are also pervasive in Worthington, an agricultural community in southwest Minnesota. Immigrants represent three in 10 residents of Worthington, and many of them are in the United States without permission.
• Mostly minority, mostly for Trump: Worthington mulls its future
Some businesses say sales are down because people are staying home; many immigrants feel they're less likely to be arrested if they're home and out of sight.
Catalina, a Guatemala native who's been in the United States 16 years, said she's had difficult conversations with her children, all U.S. citizens.
"The two older ones say that they will stay," said Catalina. "They say, 'If you leave, we don't know who we'll stay with, but we want to stay here.' And the two littlest ones say, 'We'll go with you, Mom.'"
Friends in Worthington have said they'll care for the older children if she's sent back to Central America.
Other immigrant families are making similar arrangements. Worthington accountant and notary Enrique Aguilar came to Minnesota from Mexico about 20 years ago. This winter he's been providing assistance beyond doing taxes; he's arranging guardianships for the children of adult clients.
"If they have to leave the country, the kids are going to suffer," he said.
Before Trump was elected, Aguilar had never handled a single guardianship request. But since November, he's notarized 10.
Mexico natives Adelina and Jorge also fear deportation and being separated from their four adult sons. Adelina said her family likes Worthington and plans to stay, but these are days heavy with fear.
"I wish we could just go back to how things were before this president came to be," she said. "Maybe we didn't have documentation, but we had a peace within us."
That nostalgia is also evident on the other side of the immigration divide, among residents who favor a crackdown.
Doug Wasmund lives a few miles outside of Worthington. He voted for Trump, like a majority of people who cast ballots in Nobles County. Wasmund said Trump's pledge to send unauthorized immigrants home was a major factor in his decision.
"I think for Worthington to really thrive someday, something has to change," he said.
Wasmund said unauthorized immigrants should be prosecuted for entering the country illegally. Anything less undermines trust in the legal system. The retired plumber said immigrants have diminished the quality of life in Worthington.
"It's changed the whole landscape," he said. "We're seeing more minuses than pluses."
Worthington's mayor and other community leaders dispute that view. They credit immigrants with opening businesses that revitalized downtown — and they point to the city's lower-than-average jobless rate.
Some businesses say people are failing to show up for work because they worry they'll be nabbed by ICE on the job or en route. Last month, ICE agents in the Twin Cities area pulled over work vans in search of an apparent criminal, but also detained unauthorized immigrants in the process. ICE said arrests related to those actions were routine.
But they weren't routine for Monica and her husband, who run a construction company. Both are legal residents, but they face some risk because their subcontractors employ unauthorized immigrants. Monica said some of their employees were no-shows at work after that ICE operation.
"It just feels it's open season on Hispanics," she said. "A lot of the people that are being detained are hardworking people who have been here for years and have never committed any crime, other than being here undocumented. These guys just want to work and make a better life for themselves and their families in Mexico."
Some of the president's supporters think Trump won't go so far as to deport millions of people. They point out that the country needs immigrant labor.
"Go to any company doing construction and you're going to see illegals working all over the place," said Jose Verdeja, a St. Paul general contractor who voted for Trump after twice supporting Barack Obama.
"They are everywhere," he said, and they're not going anywhere. "Oh yeah, if you're doing something wrong, goodbye. Go away. If you're doing drugs, if you're hurting people, yeah, you're going to go. But if you're not, I don't see them going."
But many people at risk of being deported take Trump at his word, and they're terrified.