Skip to main content

Why Were Trump's ICE Raids So Ineffective?

After Trump announced his intention to deport "millions," undocumented immigrants and activists began preparing their communities with "Know Your Rights" campaigns.
Immigration advocates with the Florida Immigrant Coalition go house to house handing out fliers on July 13th, 2019, in Little Havana in Miami, Florida.

Immigration advocates with the Florida Immigrant Coalition go house to house handing out fliers on July 13th, 2019, in Little Havana in Miami, Florida.

Only 35 individuals have been arrested as part of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement operation targeting families with court-ordered removals across the United States, ICE Acting Director Matthew Albence announced to reporters in an on-the-record phone call on July 23rd. Eighteen were a part of Operation Border Resolve targeted detentions, while 17 others were collateral arrests, he said. More than a month after President Donald Trump's initial announcement of Operation Border Resolve in June—and then a postponement until mid-July—those numbers are an extreme departure from the highly publicized target of 2,100 family units.

Trump had initially promised the deportation of "millions of illegal aliens" in June, and then, just days before the acting ICE director's reveal of the number of arrests in the July operation, Trump declared to reporters, "The ICE raids were very successful—people came into our country illegally, illegally."

Activists and lawyers believe the White House publicizing operations to distill fear in immigrant communities has led to the unintended consequence of preparing communities for resilience. They say the operation fell way short of its targets due to the massive spread of information undocumented immigrants shared across social media and within their neighborhoods on what to do if an ICE agent showed up, knocking on a door.

A number of immigrants say they stayed home, refusing to go to work, because ICE agents can enter public areas without permission or warrants, unlike private properties. According to ICE, in fiscal year 2018, it conducted nearly four times as many workplace checks than it did in 2017.

Other immigrants stockpiled groceries after the New York Times first reported the July dates of the operation. In the days and weeks leading up to the raids, "Know Your Rights" campaigns spread across the Internet, with multilingual instructions to communities on what to do when ICE agents showed up. In Atlanta, one of the 10 cities originally said to be on the target list of the raids, immigrant rights organizations canvassed early on the Sunday morning the raids were set to take place, knocking on immigrants' doors to let them know they did not have to let ICE agents into their home without permission.

Lawyers report incidents to Pacific Standard in which people asked ICE agents for signed warrants from judges and refused to open their doors, later calling hotlines for pro bono support.

Azadeh Shahshahani, legal and advocacy director at Project South, a civil rights group, says the operation was largely unsuccessful because "immigrants knew that they did not have to let ICE in unless they had a warrant signed by a judge."

One unnamed woman told the American Civil Liberties Union of New York (NYCLU) that, after arresting her husband on his way to work, agents waited for four hours outside her home. "They said they were going to return with a judge's order to take me and my children by force. They were there for four hours waiting for us to come out of the house. The people who took my husband left, and the others were hiding in case we went outside." Eventually, officers left and the woman reached out to community legal services for support.

Even days after the attention on the nationwide raids died down, neighborhoods remained aware of immigrant rights and kept an eye on their neighbors.

In one town in Tennessee, eight days after the scheduled raids, ICE targeted a man after a traffic stop. The man kept driving and ICE agents blocked the car from entering a driveway, garnering attention from the neighbors. Those neighbors spent hours forming a human chain around their neighbors' vehicle, until ICE agents left.

The Tennessee Immigrant Rights and Refugee Coalition, an organization that says its "mission is to empower immigrants to defend their rights and build a more welcoming [Tennessee]" showed up to observe the standoff. Days later, the organization held a session for the community on what to do and what to ask for when ICE agents show up.

These workshops have become a nationwide trend.

"In the weeks after the president announced his intention to conduct mass raids, we received a significant increase in the number of requests for [Know Your Rights] workshops," the NYCLU says. Many of the requests came from teachers and social workers, the organization reports, who wanted to know how they could prepare their clients for possibility of raids.

"One of the Trump administration's chief goals is to sow chaos and fear. Fear is the point. And one of the most crucial ways to fight against fear is to know your rights," NYCLU organizer Drea Herrera writes.

ICE Acting Director Albence added in his call with reporters that the operation will continue to target those 2,100 family units the agency originally targeted. So, as the public attention has shifted away from these raids for the moment, advocates and immigrants continue to remain focused on the rights available to undocumented migrants.

"Speaking as a member of both the Latinx and Arab communities, I must say that the fear of my loved ones of being detained or deported never goes away, regardless of who is in office," Herrera says. "I've seen the power of the immigrant community when it comes to sharing knowledge, information, and resources."