Immigrant communities around the nation’s capital and across the country are reeling in the wake of what appears to be the first wave of detentions by Immigration and Customs Enforcement since the inauguration of President Trump.
The federal government said the series of raids last week that led to the arrests of at least 683 “criminal aliens” targeted undocumented immigrants who face criminal charges and did not represent a major change from Obama administration policies.
But immigrants, their advocates and lawyers say that many people without criminal records also were taken, spreading fear in cities and counties that are home to many foreign-born people.
Here are some of their stories:
Sebardo Fernandez Rodriguez and Manuel Lopez Suarez were arrested Feb. 8 in what CASA de Maryland staff lawyer Lila Zazula called an “open-air raid” outside a Walgreens in Baltimore’s Highlandtown neighborhood.
Neither men, according to CASA, has a criminal record or even a traffic ticket.
The location where they were arrested, just off Eastern Avenue, was the site of other immigration enforcement actions during the early part of President Barack Obama’s tenure.
Lopez Suarez was double-parked in a rental car about three blocks from the Walgreens, waiting to give someone a ride, said Zazula, who interviewed him and Fernandez Rodriguez for several hours. ICE agents came to his window asking for his license and registration and whether he had a green card, to which Lopez Suarez replied no. They took him into custody.
Lopez Suarez comes from Ecuador and first arrived in this country as a 15-year-old. He was detained at the border until a family member, an uncle from Chicago, claimed him, Zazula said. Three years later, a judge issued a deportation order for Lopez. Meanwhile, he moved to Baltimore, married and had two U.S.-born children, now 10 and 12 years old. He is a business owner, restoring old homes in Baltimore and doing home improvement work.
Fernandez Rodriguez is originally from Honduras and is a barber. He has been in Baltimore for a little more than a year, according to a friend, and has become well known in the community as a passionate cyclist and local volunteer.
He left his country after gang members threatened his life and tried to extort money from his barbershop, Zazula said.
Once in this country, Zazula said, Fernandez Rodriguez should have undergone a “credible fear” interview. Instead he signed a voluntary deportation order — he told Zazula he did not know what it was. He was sent back to Honduras but returned to the United States, in violation of the order.
Zazula said Fernandez Rodriguez went to the Walgreens the night of Feb. 8 with his girlfriend to buy some makeup-removing wipes. He walked to his car in the parking lot and got inside, then lights appeared in his rear window. The officers asked Fernandez Rodriguez and his girlfriend for their driver’s licenses, Zazula said.
Then the officers asked Fernandez Rodriguez whether he had a green card. When he said no, they arrested and fingerprinted him. His girlfriend was not arrested, though she is also undocumented and has a pending deportation order.
Maria Barraza, a parent liaison at London Towne Elementary School in Centreville, Va., said that the mother of a Head Start student last week came to school distraught at pickup time.
Sobbing, she told school officials that her son’s father had been detained by immigration officials hours earlier.
The man had dropped off their child in the morning at the school. As he was walking home, he was stopped by ICE agents, questioned and taken into custody, Barraza said.
She declined to provide the name of the child or his parents, referring inquiries to the Fairfax County school system’s public information office.
A spokesman for the school system said officials there were unaware of the incident.
Oscar Ramirez and Thermon Brewster, two men who sleep at the Rising Hope United Methodist Mission Church’s hypothermia shelter in Alexandria, Va., said ICE agents detained seven immigrants the morning of Feb. 8 just as they left the shelter, which closes for the daytime hours at 7 a.m.
The pair said about a dozen agents surrounded them and other men after they had walked across the street from the church to a shopping center. They did not draw any weapons but ordered some of the men to stand against the wall of the Aldi grocery store and questioned them one at a time about their legal status.
“It’s awful strange that guys can walk out a church and be detained like that,” Brewster said in an interview. “I think that’s wrong.”
The agents scanned the men’s thumbs on-site using a device that brought up any criminal records. Ramirez said a few men, including him, had misdemeanors such as disorderly conduct, missing court dates and public drunkenness. Ramirez was one of the men detained, but he has a green card and was released.
There were other, less detailed reports of additional raids along the Route 1 corridor, which has a large immigrant population.
Ramirez and Brewster said most of those who were taken outside the Aldi were loaded in one van that arrived at the site with several detainees on board. There were shackles on their feet and around their hands. A second van also showed up to the site.
“They come here to lay their heads,” Ramirez said of the men who were apprehended after spending the night in the church-run shelter. “It’s not right to mess with people like that.”
The small county government meeting room in Annandale filled quickly Thursday night. About 100 people sat and stood shoulder to shoulder to learn more about the immigration enforcement actions this month that have triggered panic in their Northern Virginia communities.
The “Know Your Rights” session was organized by the Legal Aid Justice Center, a group of pro bono lawyers, to help people avoid detention in the future.
“Repeat after me,” said Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, legal director for the center’s immigrant advocacy program.
“Tengo el derecho de guardar silencio,” he started in Spanish. “I have the right to remain silent.”
The crowd pronounced the words slowly, somberly and in unison.
“I want to talk to my lawyer,” they continued.
And if there is a knock on the door, lawyers warned, “don’t open the door.”
Sandoval-Moshenberg quickly ran through several suggestions: Identify a trusted friend to oversee things in case you get arrested. Put all important documents in a safe, accessible place. Create an emergency plan.
“If you’re detained, who is going to take care of your children?” Sandoval-Moshenberg asked the men and women gathered.
Their eyes opened wide with concern. Many parents had brought their children to the meeting. The youngsters crawled under chairs, shrieking as they chased one another between the legs of the adults.
One by one, the attendees sat down with legal-aid volunteers who helped them fill out power-of-attorney documents and prepare. The families and individuals all brought their own set of particulars.
“She was born here,” one man said, turning his eyes to the round-faced toddler on his lap drinking vigorously from a baby bottle.
“I own a house,” another said to the volunteer sitting across the table. “What should I do?”
“What document do I fill out to protect my children? They all have papers.”
Maria Romero sat alone in a corner of the room, rolling a dozen or so documents in her hand and staring out vacuously. She arrived in the United States five months ago from Honduras, fleeing violence with her 14-year-old son. Now, he is watching news of ICE raids on Spanish-language television and barely eating.
Mexican law enforcement let them through as they traveled north, she recalled, saying “Go, and never look back,” Romero recalled. She turned herself in to Border Patrol agents after entering the United States, went to her hearings and was given a court date for 2019.
“I believe getting here was my destiny,” Romero said between tears. “But I never imagined the affliction I would encounter here. We can’t go back.”