Immigrant families across the Atlanta region worried. The city’s public school system urged them to study their legal rights. Activists held a vigil outside a sprawling DeKalb County shopping center and then demonstrated outside of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s downtown Atlanta office.
They were all bracing for the raids against unauthorized immigrants that President Donald Trump said would begin last Sunday.
And then as they nervously watched and waited for the roundups to begin — not much of anything out of the ordinary happened this week, according to Atlanta-area immigration attorneys, advocates and others.
“I have not seen a great deal of increased activity,” said Sarah Owings, a local immigration attorney who serves on the American Immigration Lawyers Association’s Board of Governors. “Yes, there are pickups being conducted but not to the scale or scope we were initially told would occur.”
Adelina Nicholls, who leads the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, an immigrant advocacy group, offered a similar assessment, even as the threats of raids instilled fear among immigrants.
Recent press reports indicated the raids were targeting at least 2,000 immigrant family members who have crossed the southwest border recently and who have remained in the country after being ordered deported. Ten cities, including Atlanta, were on ICE’s list.
ICE declined to say Thursday what it has done so far, though it is focusing on deporting those who pose threats to national security and public safety.
“Due to law enforcement sensitivities and the safety and security of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement personnel,” ICE spokesman Lindsay Williams said in an email, “the agency will not offer specific details related to enforcement operations.”
Trump praised the raids during a speech at the White House Monday without offering details about what has happened so far.
“The ICE raids were very successful. Many, many were taken out on Sunday,” he told reporters. “You just didn’t know about it.”
Charles Kuck, another local immigration attorney and a past president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said ICE is constrained by limited resources. The federal agency has about 20,000 employees working in its Washington headquarters, at its two dozen field offices across the nation, including in Atlanta, and in offices overseas. The agency, meanwhile, is now detaining more than 53,000 people, a record number. Corrections companies operate three immigration detention centers in Georgia through arrangements with ICE.
“From what I understand, the local office simply decided to maintain their normal process,” said Kuck, who teaches immigration law at Emory University. “I think part of the problem, at least in Atlanta, is they don’t have (detention) bed space.”
After Trump announced the raids in advance, Atlanta officials advised immigrants against opening their doors to people without warrants.
“Most law enforcement would tell you that it is just a bad idea to announce when you are going to do something and get people hunkered in their house,” Kuck said.
Sitting on a bench outside the Plaza Fiesta shopping center on Thursday, Ismael said he and other unauthorized immigrants always remain on alert about the possibility of ICE raids. The 32-year-old Guatemalan national — he asked that his last name not be published — said he’s fearful about ICE, but he wouldn’t let that keep him from going to work.
Inside the sprawling shopping center, Carolina Velasco said sales have been sluggish this week at her jewelry business, possibly because customers are staying home over such fears.
“It has stoked a lot of preoccupation within the community about what could happen and still may happen, so we are still on alert for it,” said Owings, the immigration attorney.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.