San Antonio Avoids ICE Raids, but Know-Your-Rights Push Continues

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Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

State Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) says the purpose of the raids is to instill fear – not to improve the safety of the community.

San Antonio was not on the list for the long-threatened “immigrant raids” over the weekend by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but local activists seeking to protect immigrants still deployed rights education efforts for concerned communities.

“I don’t think that being on or off the list makes people feel any better,” State Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) told reporters on Friday. “It’s not as if people here are going to feel like they get a pass. … There might actually be raids [in those cities, but] the purpose behind it is not safety or the well-being of the community. It’s pure, unadulterated fear.”

The raids, slated for last month but postponed by President Donald Trump, were to target people with deportation orders in 10 cities: Houston, Miami, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Atlanta, San Francisco, Denver, Baltimore, Chicago, and New York, according to national media reports.  Raids will be suspended in areas impacted by Tropical Storm Barry, according to ICE officials quoted by CNN, and apprehending violent criminals and aggravated felons were prioritized.

National news media reported signs of ICE activity in targeted cities, but officials released few details.

San Antonio was not on the list for major deportation operations and ICE has not reached out to local law enforcement, according to San Antonio Police Department’s Public Information Office.

“SAPD cooperates with federal law enforcement agencies when assistance is requested,” according to a statement sent to the Rivard Report Saturday. “We have not received any information, nor have we receive any request to the ICE operation that is reportedly taking place in other cities this weekend.”

The United States flag and the Department of Homeland Security flag wave outside an ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) office.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

The U.S. flag and the Department of Homeland Security flag wave outside a San Antonio ICE office.

However, ICE authorities routinely operate in San Antonio, often resulting in deportations.

San Antonio is not a so-called “sanctuary city” that refuses to cooperate with ICE regarding immigration, but some have said the city should take a more proactive role in assisting immigration officials.

A district judge recently dismissed several claims made by the Texas Attorney General’s Office against the city, though the underlying lawsuit – that it violated immigration law when San Antonio police released 12 migrants from Guatemala after they were discovered in a trailer – remains. The State alleges that the City does not comply with federal authorities, which would violate the 2017 “sanctuary city” law.

“We’re going to keep our law enforcement focused on local public safety and I will be making sure that the city manager and the police chief know that we are not going to prioritize any resources outside of that,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said Friday. “Our focus is on local law enforcement – we are not immigration police.

“I’ve been disgusted by the way that immigrants have been demonized and scapegoated and made to be fearful of the communities they reside in,” he added. “We will not stand for the kind of attacks on immigrants that we’ve seen in other places and we will be focusing our resources on public safety. … We need to make sure that people know their rights.”

Organizations like the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), Catholic Charities, and American Gateways offer information to immigrants to navigate the immigration process and know their rights, Nirenberg said, and “they can call my office.”

Last week, American Gateways, a nonprofit based in Austin with offices in San Antonio and Waco, hosted a phone bank with Univision for immigrants, family members, and advocates to call in to ask questions about what immigrants should know when approached by local, state, or federal authorities.

“We try to keep it simple,” said Elizabeth Almanza, a coordinator for American Gateways pro bono programs and communications. “Stay calm … ask for an attorney, ask to see a judge, remain silent.”

They were considering hosting a live, in-person event, she said, but “no one would show up … they are afraid.”

They will host more phone banks, as needed, she said.

Almanza said she met a woman who opened a door for ICE officials who had a warrant for someone who did not live in her home. The woman was so nervous and intimidated, she told them she was undocumented, Almanza said.

“You don’t have to tell them where you are from,” she said,  just your name and birthday if asked. 

American Gateways and other organizations also encourage immigrants to have an emergency plan in place for the worst case scenario: detainment and deportation, Almanza said. “Have a point person who you can call who knows where [your documents] are and who else to contact for you.”

Almanza and her family had such a plan while her father was on the path to citizenship, she said. They used it once. It’s a morbid practice, but it’s better than “waiting until the last minute” – like learning CPR when someone suddenly stops breathing in front of you.

She recommends downloading the ACLU Blue mobile app, which helps people document how they are treated by law enforcement and provides do’s and don’ts. The National Association for Latino Community Asset Builders has a comprehensive list of know-your-rights resources here.

American Gateways also works at detention facilities to connect immigrants with attorneys and help them comply with court dates once released – but there is more need than there are volunteers and attorneys willing to take on the cases, she said.

Bernal said that despite the fear, immigrants are a strong group.

“I think the president is trying to use this community as a punching bag or a piñata,” he said. “I think they’re more resilient than they realize, but it’s still hard to watch – hard to listen to.”

Nirenberg said the consequence of these raids, though not taking place en masse in San Antonio, is fear and distrust of law enforcement.

“In San Antonio, we are a compassionate city,” Nirenberg said. “It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from. And we will always be that way. … We want [people] to know they should feel safe here in San Antonio. … The tragedy of all this is that you have members of the community, all around this country, who are fearful of law enforcement and that’s not what we should be about.”

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