Reports that Denver will be targeted in a national immigration crackdown on Sunday were met with anger, skepticism, defiance and fear Friday.
“This is a dangerous time we are living in, and under this president our freedoms are under attack, and we need to stand up for them,” Tay Anderson, a Denver activist and educator, told scores of protesters outside the ICE immigrant detention center in Aurora Friday night. “We should not persecute immigrants, but embrace them because we still have room in this country for them.”
The rally was a part of a nationwide No More Deaths/No Más Muertes demonstration held June 21, the longest day of the year and one of the hottest and deadliest for those crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.
The protesters were further fueled by Friday’s announcement that President Trump has ordered a mass roundup of up to 2,000 families Sunday.
Federal immigration officials confirmed Sunday’s raids are planned in as many as 10 U.S. cities in an operation known as “Family Op,” the Washington Post reported. The president, who has made halting the flow of immigrants to the United States a cornerstone of his presidency and re-election bid, signaled his intentions in a tweet Wednesday: “Next week ICE will begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States. They will be removed as fast as they come in.”
Many in Denver said the raids may, in reality, be more political show than substance.
“Threatening to separate families through ICE’s ‘Family Op’ raids that are planned for this Sunday is yet another tactic by the Trump administration to fear monger our communities,” said the Colorado Immigration Rights Coalition, CIRC, in a statement. “Although Trump’s threat of deporting ‘millions’ is obviously hyperbolic, without the capacity or resources to carry out, CIRC urges people to know and exercise their rights at all times.”
Joining CIRC in urging immigrants to know their rights was the Colorado Rapid Response Network, a coalition of immigrant rights groups.
“We urge all immigrants who are at risk, or who live with or near someone who is at risk of being targeted by this operation to review Know Your Rights materials, to complete a family safety plan, and to have the Rapid Response Hotline Number easily accessible 1-844-864-8341.”
The Metro Denver Sanctuary Coalition, 12 faith-based communities that offer sanctuary to undocumented immigrants in danger of deportation, started placing people in sanctuary on Friday and will continue to through Sunday, said coalition founder and protest organizer Jeanette Vizguerra.
“We will continue to fight, and to host sanctuary and ‘Know Your Rights’ trainings. We need everyone around the Nation to do the same,” Vizguerra said.
Families to be detained in hotel rooms
ICE reportedly is zeroing in on immigrants who received court-ordered deportation papers earlier this year. Directors of the two agencies in charge of the raid, ICE and the Department of Homeland Security, apparently have differing views on how aggressive to be in rounding up immigrants, with Acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan urging a slower approach.
The Washington Post reported ICE plans to use hotel rooms to detain parents and children until all the members of a family are together and ready for deportation. “Officials also acknowledge that they might arrest individuals they cannot immediately deport — known as ‘collateral arrests’ — and likely will release those people with ankle monitoring devices,” the newspaper reported.
So-called collateral arrests — undocumented individuals who face arrest and detention because ICE encounters them while they are looking for someone else — are common, said the Colorado Rapid Response Network. The network’s hotline data show that in Colorado, 84% of immigrants detained in raids are bystanders.
Detainees ask for protesters’ help
At Friday’s “Desert and Detention” protest outside the Aurora detention center, protesters placed shoes on the ground to represent the number of those killed both by crossing the border and in ICE detention centers. They held signs with the names and ages of those who were killed and read them aloud one by one.
After they were finished reading the names, they marched around the detention center chanting phrases such as, “Melt the toxic ICE,” “No more raids” and “Children’s rights are human rights.”
Meanwhile, a group of detainees, both children and adults, appeared at the barred windows holding signs with phone numbers to call to help get them out. Others displayed how long they had been in the detention center. One had the word “help” written on it.
‘Denver stands with our immigrant and refugee families’
State and city officials had little information to share Friday about the raids.
“Denver is aware of recent reports that immigration enforcement would increase in the coming days, but Denver Police and the City of Denver would never receive advance notice of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) activity,” Mayor Michael Hancock tweeted Friday.
“However, we want to reiterate that Denver stands with our immigrant and refugee families, that we do not support family separation or the round-up of immigrant families to spread fear in our community,” he added.
Gov. Jared Polis’ office said it contacted federal officials but hasn’t “been able to get a clear answer about this operation and whether it involves actions in Colorado,” the Denver Post reported.
Rep. Jason Crow wrote in an email, “The administration’s fear-mongering and disregard for the sanctity of family continues. As we struggle with the humanitarian crisis at the border, mistreatment of migrant children, and problems at the Aurora detention center, we should all see this for what it is: a political ploy that does nothing to fix our broken immigration system.”
U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette said ICE confirmed it would be conducting operations against immigrants but wouldn’t give her details, Channel 7 reported.
“What this administration is doing to these immigrant families is shameful,” DeGette said in the statement. “Instilling fear in the hearts of families across the country by announcing these nationwide raids, while continuing to lock up kids at the border, is not who we are as a country.”
Others made it clear Denver’s Latino community will not be cowed by threats.
“We will not allow this administration to bully and terrorize us into a state of panic, as they intend with this sick operation,” said Ana Rodriguez of the Colorado People’s Alliance. “We will resist these attacks as a unified community, we will make public the atrocities ICE commits, and we will continue to fight back. We are here to stay.”
Austin Fleskes contributed to this report.