by Cheryl Piccio, ABS-CBN News
HOUSTON, TX — Large scale raids by U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in cities around the nation have begun, leading to the arrests of hundreds of undocumented people in as many as eleven states.
According to the most recent census, Texas has the second-largest undocumented immigrant population in the country behind California — about 1.5 million people.
Immigration activists said in February that they had documented ICE raids of unusual intensity in Austin and Dallas.
A video circulating on social media shows ICE agents making arrests in a parking lot, at an Austin shopping center.
The federal agency states that the raids were “routine enforcement actions,” intended to target people with criminal records.
However, ICE admits that people without criminal backgrounds were also taken into custody.
Texas Congressman Joaquin Castro said in a statement that he was told by ICE’s San Antonio field office that they launched a targeted operation in South and Central Texas, as part of a six day special operation.
“It was hard to leave our meeting and not believe that the Trump administration is going to target as many immigrants as possible,” said Joaquin Castro, Texas state representative. “They have claimed that those targeted individuals had some other offense attached to them… aside from that, everybody else is fair game for them.”
Houston is home to an estimated 400,000 undocumented immigrants.
Over the past month, rumors have been swirling of ICE checkpoints at local businesses and apartments around the metropolitan area — but the checkpoints were verified to be normal police traffic enforcement, and have no evidence of ICE raids.
Still, reports of raids in Houston pour in over social media.
Fil-Am immigration attorneys in Houston say that an increase in activity will definitely impact the Houston Filipino community, making it critical that undocumented immigrants understand their rights under the law.
“The first thing to do when approached by an ICE officer is to know your rights. ICE officers cannot enter your home without a warrant, and it is your right to ask for warrant,” said Clarissa Salazar, a Fil-Am immigration law attorney. “If you are detained… remain silent, until you can speak to an attorney. Another important thing to remember is to not sign anything, without consulting with an attorney.”
Filipino-American supporters of President Donald Trump’s policies insist that the president’s actions on immigration are in the best interests of the country.
“The answer is to lower immigration levels across the board,” says Trump supporter Joanna Llorente. “The work visa system and the family visa system, in a way… that still allows those foreigners with truly essential skills, at the highest levels of their profession to come in.”
As documented incidents of immigration raids in other Texas cities continue to rise, many in Houston’s immigrant communities believe it is only a matter of time before the rumors become a reality — and they wonder where ICE agents will come knocking next.