Metro Atlanta bracing for immigration enforcement raids this weekend

ICE plans spark warnings, protests, vigils
Long lines form outside the Atlanta Immigration Court Tuesday morning, July 2, 2019. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

Long lines form outside the Atlanta Immigration Court Tuesday morning, July 2, 2019. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

The immigration enforcement raids the Trump administration is preparing to carry out across the country this weekend are prompting a flurry of dire warnings, protests and vigils across the Atlanta region.

A prominent local immigration attorney is reporting that federal authorities have rented vans for the raids. Atlanta officials are advising immigrants against opening their doors to people without warrants. And activists say they will attempt to "shut down" the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in downtown Atlanta on Monday.

President Donald Trump postponed the raids last month, saying he was seeking a bipartisan agreement on “the Asylum and Loophole problems at the Southern Border.”

“It starts on Sunday, and they’re going to take people out and they’re going to bring them back to their countries,” he told reporters at the White House Friday. “Or they’re going to take criminals out, put them in prison, or put in them in prison in the countries they came from. We’re focused on criminals as much as we can, before we do anything else.”

Trump did not provide specifics, but multiple press reports say the raids are expected to unfold over multiple days and target 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.

Collateral arrests — or apprehensions of unauthorized immigrants who happen to be in the vicinity of ICE’s targets — are also possible. Ten cities are reportedly on ICE’s list: Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York and San Francisco. But authorities said enforcement efforts would be suspended in and around New Orleans this weekend as Tropical Storm Barry bears down on the Gulf Coast.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms decried the raid plans.

“The White House is compounding an already spiraling humanitarian crisis with detention centers,” she said in a prepared statement. “If they want to truly help cities, they should ask us what we need, because political shows of force will only harm — not help.”

In an interview, Bottoms said she was concerned about ICE targeting a Sunday block party in Sara J. Gonzalez Memorial Park that is intended to educate immigrants about the 2020 Census. The city, she said, contacted ICE and was told the federal agency would not interfere or use the block party as part of its operations.

On Thursday, Atlanta immigration attorney Charles Kuck said on Facebook that ICE has rented Enterprise vans to help with the raids. He declined to identify the source of his information.

“We do not know the colors, or if they have the logo,” he wrote in Spanish, “but if you do not know the cars / vehicles in your neighborhood, use your common sense and stay inside! Know your rights!”

Enterprise did not respond to repeated requests for comment. And ICE declined to say whether it is renting the vans.

“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,” ICE spokesman Bryan Cox said in a prepared statement.

Activists scheduled a vigil for Friday night at Atlanta's Plaza Fiesta shopping center to draw attention to conditions in immigration detention centers at the U.S.-Mexico border. Also, a group calling itself Never Again Action – it describes itself as a movement calling for Jews to shut down ICE – is preparing to demonstrate outside of the federal agency's downtown Atlanta office Monday at noon.

“American Jews grew up learning about the Holocaust from survivors in our families or communities,” the group said in a news release. “We know what the separation of families, the rounding up of people, and the creation of concentration camps can lead to.”

Meanwhile, the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, an immigrant rights group, is operating a hotline for tips about ICE enforcement and has a team in place, the “ICE Chasers,” for rapidly documenting encounters with the federal agency. That team is preparing to be on-call from 5-8 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Latino Community Fund Georgia, a nonprofit charity, is telling parents at risk of deportation to designate people for keeping copies of their important documents and taking care of their children. El Refugio, which shelters immigrant families in South Georgia, is encouraging them to caution their children about opening their doors to strangers in the early mornings, something that could lead to deportations. And Asian Americans Advancing Justice Atlanta, a legal advocacy group, is advising immigrants they have the right to remain silent in their interactions with ICE.

Carlos L., 34, of Norcross, is worried about what could happen this weekend. Carlos, whose last name was not published to protect his identity, said he was released this week on bond following a three-month stay in a South Georgia immigration detention center. His son is 12, just one year older than Carlos was when he came here from Mexico in 1999. Carlos does not have legal status in the United States, but his son is a U.S. citizen. That means they could be separated.

“Before, everything used to be OK, but now we have to live with fear,” said Carlos, fighting back tears as he got his hair cut Friday afternoon at a salon on Chamblee Dunwoody Road. “It’s an ugly feeling.”

Staff writers Stephen Deere, Ashley Soriano and Anila Yoganathan contributed to this report.