Shared from the 7/15/2019 Houston Chronicle eEdition

Houston sees no ICE raid wave

First day of planned deportations is ‘quiet’; officials stay mum on ‘targeted enforcement’

Fear of federal raids and mass deportations on Sunday kept many immigrant families in the Houston area on edge, even as no significant Immigration and Customs Enforcement activities were reported across the country.

Normally bustling streets and shopping centers saw thin crowds as families stayed away from public places in predominately immigrant neighborhoods. Church members noted fewer worshipers in the pews.

“It was quiet,” said Anna Núñez, a member of the North Houston Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. “On a day that is holy to us, we have Christians who can’t even go to church because they’re afraid of ICE raids.”

Federal authorities on Sunday were expected to start mass arrests of thousands of immigrants living without legal permission in major cities, including in Houston. FIEL Houston, a local immigrant rights organization, reported two immigrants arrests on Saturday. But the wave of arrests that immigrants, advocates and government officials had spent weeks bracing for had yet to materialize by Sunday evening.

“We have not had anything come up this far,” said Art Acevedo, Houston’s chief of police, in an email Sunday afternoon.

ICE officials did not confirm any arrests and have kept atight lip around their so-called “targeted enforcement operations,” which were demanded by President Donald Trump. The immigration hardliner throughout his presidential campaign questioned Barack Obama’s citizenship and ran on a promise to build a wall along the Mexican border. As president, he has also tried to ban travel from seven predominately Muslim countries, separate immigrant children from their families at the border and include a citizenship question on the 2020 Census. Courts ruled against each move.

“Due to law-enforcement sensitivities and the safety and security of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement personnel, the agency will not offer specific details related to enforcement operations,” Tim Oberle, an ICE spokesman in Houston, wrote on Sunday in an email.

‘People are afraid’

Instead, an uneasy quiet settled across the Houston region, which is home to an estimated 500,000 unauthorized immigrants, according to Pew Research Center.

On a typical Sunday, some 80 people stream through Arredondo Work Boots in Northeast Houston’s La Estrella Flea Market looking for cowboy and work boots ranging in price from $49 to $89. The first day of Trump’s promised crackdown, only about 20 customers had shown up by mid-afternoon.

“You see the fear,” said Luciano Arroyo, whose family owns the business. “Especially today.”

Near Arredondo Work Boots, a handful of people looked through baptism dresses, quinceañera gowns and lingerie at RC Fashion. Sales were down 40 percent from the summer before said the owner, Rolando Carballo. The dip began last month, when the ICE crackdown was originally expected to begin.

“People are afraid,” Carballo said. “They’re keeping the money because they don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Cesar Espinosa, the executive director of FIEL Houston, said fears extended beyond shopping centers. Restaurants, farms and construction companies employ alarge share of undocumented workers. “Businesses are saying it’s been a slow weekend,” he said. “It’s obviously already hurting the economy and just Houston in general.”

Houston-area political and law enforcement officials last week sharply criticized the planned federal raids, saying they would harm public safety and risk separating children from their parents. FIEL announced Saturday that a local church network would be opening its doors to harbor immigrants who may be in danger of being deported.

Starting ‘any moment’

Ruby Powers, a Houston immigration attorney, called the looming raids a “fear campaign” distracting immigrants, advocates and community organizations from working toward immigration reform.

Trump announced Friday that the raids would start “on Sunday and they’re going to take people out and they’re going to bring them back to their countries,” with a focus on convicted criminals first. But advocates said ICE may be waiting for attention to wane before commencing the raids, prolonging fears among Houston’s immigrant communities.

“If you’re trying to do something covert, you don’t publicly announce your playbook two to three weeks in advance,” Powers said. “It could start at any moment — tomorrow, or the next day or in a few weeks.”

Lomi Kriel contributed to this report.

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