The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has reportedly canceled a series of nationwide raids scheduled for mid-September that would have added up to the largest—and possibly, most devastating—enforcement operation in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) history.
“Multiple sources within and close to ICE” initially shared information about the raids with various immigrant rights groups. But following public outcry and further exposure from an NBC News report, DHS announced that “Operation Mega”—set to target some 8,400 undocumented immigrants later this month and "the largest operation of its kind in the history of ICE"—was off, allegedly due to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma:
"While we generally do not comment on future potential law enforcement actions, operational plans are subject to change based on a variety of factors," ICE spokesman Sarah Rodriguez said in a statement. "Due to the current weather situation in Florida and other potentially impacted areas, along with the ongoing recovery in Texas, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had already reviewed all upcoming operations and has adjusted accordingly. There is currently no coordinated nationwide operation planned at this time. The priority in the affected areas should remain focused on life-saving and life-sustaining activities."
Of course, Hurricane Harvey didn’t stop Customs and Border Protection (CBP) from shutting down Border Patrol checkpoints in Texas, leaving undocumented immigrant families in so much fear that Houston officials had to issue public reassurances that no one would be asked for their I.D. or immigration status at hurricane shelters.
Following the initial rumors of “Operation Mega”—no doubt a reference to “MAGA”—immigrant rights advocates issued an all-hands-on-deck alert, encouraging immigrant families to “review their safety plans and tips for how they can defend their rights if they encounter ICE.” This includes not opening doors for any ICE agents, the right to remain silent, and not signing anything without talking to an attorney first.
These kind of educational efforts from community leaders and groups have already been credited with preventing many unjust arrests.
Now, while ICE claims that the operation was going to target only “gang members or perpetrators of serious crimes,” immigrant rights groups point to data showing that “in the most recent enforcement operation for which ICE released data, approximately 70 percent of individuals arrested” were not operation targets. ICE crudely calls these “collateral arrests,” undocumented people who face deportation and getting torn from their families “just because ICE encountered them while they were looking for someone else” and are then swept up.
For now, “Operation Mega” is supposedly off, but groups and families remain on alert. It could easily be rescheduled and families, after all, are still getting arrested. “An operation of this massive scale would devastate immigrant communities and endanger lives. Families will be separated and children will be traumatized,” said Michelle Brané, director for Migrant Rights and Justice at the Women’s Refugee Commission. “These actions do not make us safer. On the contrary, they undermine the rule of law by invoking fear and blatantly ignoring due process.”
United We Dream’s Greisa Martinez added that days ago, “Trump killed the DACA program which protected me and 800,000 immigrant youth from deportation. [Yesterday] he ... tried to deflect criticism by tweeting that immigrant youth had ‘nothing to worry about.’ Seriously? How can we not worry when we learn that ICE is about to launch massive raids? Congress needs to defund these agents who are armed to attack families and get to work now on passing a clean Dream Act. The time for action is now!”