Several detained in immigration raids in Champaign
CHAMPAIGN — At least four people were picked up in raids by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Champaign on Sunday, and several more on Monday, according to immigrant advocates.
Ricardo Diaz of the C-U Immigration Forum, which monitors federal immigration enforcement actions, said he knew of four people — three Guatemalan and one Mexican — swept up by federal authorities on Sunday morning, and agents went to at least one more home at 7 a.m. Monday.
Lucia Maldonado, Latino family liaison for the Urbana school district, said she knew of one man picked up on Sunday and three members of another family on Monday, including a man visiting the U.S. on a tourist visa. He was scheduled to be released on bail today from a detention facility in St. Louis, she said.
Maldonado and Diaz declined to provide names or more details.
The federal immigration service did not respond to News-Gazette inquiries Monday and Tuesday.
Diaz and Maldonado said ICE, as the immigration agency is known, has been conducting "pickups" about once a month in Champaign-Urbana under both the Obama and Trump administrations. But this one was larger and started on a weekend, when children were home to see parents taken away, Diaz and Maldonado said.
Maldonado said witnesses spotted five vans during one stop, "which means that at least five or more agents are here."
"Usually, you hear about one or two cars, so hearing about five is concerning," she said.
Diaz said ICE typically warns local authorities that it plans to be in the area but won't give a specific time.
LaEisha Meaderds, spokeswoman for the Champaign Police Department, said she could not verify whether or not ICE agents were in Champaign on Monday. She referred questions to the Department of Homeland Security office in Chicago.
The Chicago office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a division of Homeland Security, has jurisdiction over Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Missouri, Kentucky and Kansas. Calls there were referred to the Washington, D.C., media office. An email inquiry was not returned as of late Tuesday.
Diaz on Monday was trying to track the number of people detained and verify their whereabouts with federal authorities.
Information tends to trickle in, he said, as some people are picked up at work, and their families won't find out until they fail to come home, he said.
"Work won't necessarily call and say, 'Joe didn't show up,'" he said.
Detainees are often taken to the Springfield or Indianapolis field offices for processing, but also St. Louis or Chicago, Diaz said. They are usually held in one of three detention facilities paid for by the federal government, including Tri-County Detention Center in Ullin, near Carbondale, or facilities in Effingham or Sangamon counties, he said.
The immigration service usually provides an "alien number" given to each detainee so advocates can help families track them down.
"It's really nice to tell the family where they're at and where they need to start planning to go, and make sense of it," Diaz said. "People go into crisis mode, but they don't know who to call."
'A vicious cycle'
Maldonado said the man who was here on a tourist visa was supposed to be released on bail from the Tri-County facility Tuesday, but the volunteer who drove there to pick him up learned he had been transferred to a facility in St. Louis. The volunteer hoped to pick him up there today.
"He just got here a couple of weeks ago just to visit somebody," said Maldonado, who spoke to a family member. The family showed the agent his visa, to no avail, she said. She didn't know if the man had charges pending that would have made him a target for immigration services.
Those on the ICE list are there for a reason, Diaz said, but it could range from criminal activity to people who have simply made a second attempt to enter the country illegally. In the last couple of months, agents have also picked up people who failed to show up for a court appointment. It's a Catch-22, he said, because people fear if they do show up, they'll be detained indefinitely.
"Why go to court at all if they're going to nail you anyway? It just becomes a vicious cycle of fostering noncompliance," he said.
While the Obama administration deported more than 2 million illegal immigrants, the government focused on people who posed a threat to national security or public safety or those who had arrived since 2014.
President Donald Trump's executive order widened the parameters to include anyone with an outstanding deportation order, those convicted of any criminal offense, those who committed fraud and those accused but not yet convicted of a crime.
"It creates a lot of panic for people," Maldonado said. "A lot of people are assuming that just because of the way they look they could be questioned or picked up or arrested."
Word of a raid travels fast through the immigrant community, Diaz said.
"You can guarantee," he said, that fewer families will be out shopping or sending their children to school over the next few days — not just those whose parents have been picked up but other families who are afraid to leave the house.
The Immigration Forum and other groups have been conducting "Know Your Rights" training for advocacy groups and school officials as well as immigrants, "so they know what to do if immigration goes into their home," Maldonado said.
"A lot of times, they're looking for somebody who doesn't live there anymore. If people open their doors, they risk being questioned," she said.
The last session drew 150 people, Diaz said.
One important component of the training: helping parents fill out a power of attorney for someone to take care of their children if they're detained.
Understandably, that's the biggest source of anxiety for families.
"Most of them won't even ask you questions about how to protect themselves, they are so concerned about their children," Maldonado said. "What happens if they get arrested? Who will take care of their kids?"
Most of the families have been in the United States for years, and their children were either born here or arrived when they were very young, she said.
"This is their home, so even just thinking about moving back to some other place that they don't even know is scary for them," Maldonado said.
"These are people who really have done everything they could to get documented, and they would do anything they could to get documented. There really is not a way to do so."
The process for legal immigration is backed up for years, and for those who came illegally, there's no path to legal status, she said.