Indian families in Chicago afraid of being detained by immigration officials


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Indian families in Chicago, even those residing legally, are scared they may be detained by immigration officials as part of a massive deportation drive underway after President Donald Trump signed an executive order to broaden the scope for enforcement.

In the West Ridge neighborhood, South Asian and Arab families with green cards are still shaken by Trump’s immigration order last month banning travel into the United States from seven largely Muslim countries. So when rumors began this weekend that federal agents were visiting Devon Avenue businesses to inquire into peoples’ immigration statuses, some residents thought it best to lie low, reported the Chicago Tribune.

Even shopping has been curtailed in the Devon Avenue area, and Indians are avoiding unnecessary trips. If they did, they were sure to carry their immigration documents to prove to whoever might stop them that they were authorized to live in the country.

“One family, they told me they heard someone ring their doorbell at 9 p.m. at night. It could have been anyone but maybe it was DHS. They held their blankets in their beds and waited,” said Shabbir Patel, a community leader at the local mosque, Jamia Masjid, reported the Chicago Tribune. “Every time the doorbell rings, they get scared,” he said.

Chicago’s U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office made more than 200 arrests across six states — Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Kansas and Missouri — during an operation that began Feb. 4 and concluded Friday, said spokeswoman Gail Montenegro.

A shop owner on Devon asking to remain anonymous said the rumors of arrests and inquiries in the area have affected local businesses.

“We’ve gone days without a sale in our store. People aren’t walking on the streets. They come in for necessities, maybe just stop by. But I don’t even see the foot traffic … they feel almost targeted,” the owner said.

Some West Ridge families with legal documentation, like visas or green cards, worry those documents could be revoked now by federal agents. Patel attended a meeting of local community leaders Friday where residents vocalized their concern that, should they be netted by federal agents, they wouldn’t be able to contact their family members for help, he said.

Patel also works at a refugee assistance program at Makki Masjid, a mosque in Albany Park. The program has helped settle refugees from Burma, Syria and Iraq, assisting them financially and with practical advice for living in Chicago.

“They’ve been calling these last three weeks in panic,” Patel said, referring to Trump’s travel ban. “‘Are we gonna get our green cards taken away?’ they ask. ‘Are we allowed to walk on the streets? Look for jobs? Go grocery shopping?'”

“Everything is up in the air,” he said. “Every day we pray for each other — especially people who are already here through the right process.”

Earlier, Reuters reported U.S. federal immigration agents arrested hundreds of undocumented immigrants in at least four states last week in what officials on Friday called routine enforcement actions.

“The fear coursing through immigrant homes and the native-born Americans who love immigrants as friends and family is palpable,” Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, said in a statement. “Reports of raids in immigrant communities are a grave concern.”

The enforcement actions took place in Atlanta, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and surrounding areas, said David Marin, director of enforcement and removal for the Los Angeles field office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Only five of 161 people arrested in Southern California would not have been enforcement priorities under the Obama administration, he said.

The agency did not release a total number of detainees. The Atlanta office, which covers three states, arrested 200 people, Bryan Cox, a spokesman for the office, said. The 161 arrests in the Los Angeles area were made in a region that included seven highly populated counties, Marin said.

Michael Kagan, a professor of immigration law at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, said immigration advocates are concerned that the arrests could signal the beginning of more aggressive enforcement and increased deportations under Trump.

“It sounds as if the majority are people who would have been priorities under Obama as well,” Kagan said in a telephone interview. “But the others may indicate the first edge of a new wave of arrests and deportations.”

Trump recently broadened the categories of people who could be targeted for immigration enforcement to anyone who had been charged with a crime, removing an Obama-era exception for people convicted of traffic misdemeanors, Kagan said.