For thousands of families, the postponement of a massive federal immigration raid targeting them for deportation allowed for a momentary sigh of relief.
But organizations that advocate for undocumented people and asylum seekers in the immigration system know that the clock is ticking.
President Donald Trump’s decision to delay the raids and mass removal of undocumented immigrants from the United States still leaves the threat of impending deportation hanging over the heads of thousands of migrant families, according to attorneys and advocates working in the immigration system.
“The president is holding these people hostage in a bid to pass this funding package, and that’s just unconscionable,” Melissa Crow, a senior supervising attorney at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), told The Daily Beast. “What makes it even more outrageous is that we’re delaying with parents and kids.”
Trump’s initial threat to deport “millions of illegal aliens” in a vast operation to be conducted last weekend meant that immigration advocates had little lead time to warn clients about potential legal recourse against removal.
“When these happen, we have to go into rapid-response mode,” said Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, a nonprofit immigrant community organization. Since people picked up in massive sweeps are often quickly deported, Salas said, the primary goal is helping those in detention get legal representation “as quickly as possible by getting to their family members.”
“We actually go into the detention centers,” Salas said, “to try to quickly offer support to families and to their loved one who is in detention.”
The most important step for those at risk of being caught in an immigration raid, advocates said, is preparation. Ahead of the initially scheduled raids, the American Civil Liberties Union flooded social channels with a “Know Your Rights” fact sheet, available in more than a dozen languages, that prepared undocumented people in the event that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents showed up on their doorstep or pull them over in a vehicle. The SPLC’s own guide encourages families to make a plan for children, many of them U.S. citizens, in case their parents are detained.
“It’s crucial that people who might be targeted by these enforcement actions be having conversations as families,” Salas said. “We tell people, you must have a conversation with your family about what you would do if immigration came to your home. Who would you call? What’s your line of emergency calls you would make?”
The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights said such conversations create a “Family Plan,” much like Angelenos might establish a meeting place in the event of an earthquake.
“We help people put that together in order for individuals to really have the best chance to get legal assistance for family members,” Salas said.
Part of that family plan has been reminding parents to keep their children’s well-being top of mind, said Maria Odom, vice president for legal services at Kids In Need of Defense (KIND), a nonprofit that advocates for children in the immigration system.
“Being able to advise our client, the child, on that potentiality, as well as to work with the family to ensure that there is a plan for the care and custody of the child, is imperative,” said Odom. “The fear and the terror that we are asking in the communities is very real, so a lot of time is being spent reassuring these families that the community stands behind them under very difficult and scary circumstances.”
Although immigration attorneys cautioned that Trump’s two-week deadline is far from a guarantee that undocumented people don’t face threat of arrest or detention in the meantime, acting ICE director Mark Morgan told reporters earlier this month that the agency would be most aggressively pursuing “individuals who have gone through due process and who have received final orders of deportation.”
Although “that will include families,” Morgan said at the time, the deportations would be carried out “with compassion and humanity.”
Advocates told The Daily Beast that it’s critical for undocumented people to know that even if they have final orders of removal from the United States, they may still have legal recourse against deportation—most commonly, if they never received a copy of the final removal order itself.
“We’ve found that, in many cases, people living in temporary living situations [who] may move around frequently because they have minimal resources” have often not been delivered a notice of final removal, Crow said. “If they don’t get the notice—either because the host at the last residence didn’t deliver it, or they didn’t have a lawyer... there may be a possibility of reopening the case.”
In other cases, worsening conditions in an asylum seeker’s native country could help re-start their case, even if a bid for asylum has been rejected in the past.
Ironically, it is precisely those sort of procedural stalling tactics that Trump has pushed to eliminate in exchange for putting the mass raids on a more permanent hiatus. In exchange for stopping the removal order, Trump has called on Congress to close “the Asylum and Loophole problems at the Southern Border.”
“If not, Deportations start!” Trump tweeted Saturday afternoon
Trump was apparently referring to a proposed bill written by Sen. Lindsey Graham, which would require those seeking asylum to go through the process either in Mexico or in their native country, a Catch-22 in the eyes of immigration advocates.
“It’s no compromise at all—it’s still his way or the highway,” said Salas. “On the one side, we destroy our asylum laws, and on the other side, he continues with these raids.”
But Trump’s proposed asylum system that requires people seeking protection from persecution to remain in a country where they face persecution faces a greater obstacle than its own inherent contradiction. Even if Democrats were likely to agree to such a deal, Crow said, demands that Congress reform the nation’s entire asylum process in a mere two weeks are “just laughable.”
“The solutions to these problems are systemic ones,” Crow said. “The most fundamental solution is to help improve conditions in the countries of origin that are prompting these people to flee in the first place.”
Trump tweeted Saturday that it was up to Democrats to use his arbitrary timetable come up with a bipartisan plan to close what he sees as loopholes in the immigration system in order to stop the impending deportations.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi herself cautioned that Trump’s two-week deadline was too tight for Congress, tweeting on Saturday that “time is needed for comprehensive immigration reform.”
Beginning on Friday, Congress will be out of session until July 8—cutting an already narrow time frame to pass a massive overhaul of the U.S. immigration system in half.
Immigration authorities and advocates alike think that, regardless of the fate of the proposed immigration compromise on the Hill, mass deportations on the scale envisioned by the president would lead to legal, logistical and ethical chaos. Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan has been accused of leaking plans for the initially scheduled wave of raids, reportedly because he sees the immigration detention system is already straining to the point of near-collapse.
“As Congress prepares to vote on additional funding for these agencies, they must acknowledge that they are funding and permitting these policies to take place,” said May Bauer, who oversees the SPLC’s Immigrant Justice Project. “Additional monies will only provide more funding for this administration’s policies; policies that intentionally seek to tear apart families. No more money should be allocated to an agency that contends that traumatized young children who have been ripped from their parents’ arms are not worthy of the most basic care.”
That leaves one final tactic for some immigration rights advocates: urging lawmakers to call treat Trump’s deadline like his promised tariffs against Mexico or air strikes on Iran or the promise that he would deport as many as 3 million undocumented immigrants in his first term: “next week on The Apprentice”-style hyperbole that can’t possibly live up to the hype.
“The Trump administration’s focus, almost since its inception, has been deterrence of asylum seekers… the constraints are artificial,” Crow said. “Call his bluff.”