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Immigrants ‘in a panic’ over new enforcement plan, advocates say

Detained immigrants are searched after being captured by

Detained immigrants are searched after being captured by U.S. Border Patrol agents on August 16, 2016 in Roma, Texas. Credit: Getty Images / John Moore

The Trump administration’s release Tuesday of new immigration enforcement plans is an unwelcome development for communities where many are on edge about an expected crackdown leading to deportations, immigrant advocates said.

“The situation is this: people are in a panic,” said Luz Torres, director of the Centro Cultural Hispano de Oyster Bay, a community group for Latino immigrants.

Those who see themselves as vulnerable for enforcement actions are avoiding going places other than work, she said.

Some families have withdrawn funds from bank accounts to remit to their countries in case they are sent back, she said.

Parents who fear deportation have made plans to have relatives and friends care for children, she said.

The enforcement memos, Torres added, are likely to fuel a sense of persecution: “Everyone is scared because no one knows who could be targeted.”

The memorandums issued by Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly are seen as a blueprint to carry out executive orders issued by President Donald Trump during his first week in office — proposing a wall across the southern border with Mexico and efforts to step-up the removal of immigrants here illegally, while expanding the criteria of immigrants who could be deported for criminal offenses even before conviction.

However, one expert cautions that the announcement does not equal immediate action or eventual implementation, due to legal, logistical and funding issues.

“These two documents are much more sizzle than steak,” said Eric M. Freedman, a constitutional law scholar at Hofstra University.

“The vast majority of the items consist of announcements of intentions to do things in the future which the government acknowledges it can’t do now,” Freedman said. “The aspects that might be able to be implemented reasonably soon are likely to be challenged legally” over a range of due process and legal concerns, he said.

But the plans, which include not exempting “classes or categories of removal aliens from potential enforcement” and increasing the immigration enforcement force by 10,000 officers and agents, are worrisome for those immigrants who could be targeted under the revised policies.

“The main concern for the immigrant community is we have erased all the priorities” of who to deport “and we are essentially saying that any immigrant that ICE encounters is at risk,” including those who can’t prove legal status during raids, said Patrick Young, program director of the Central American Refugee Center in Hempstead and Brentwood.

Young said immigrant advocates would seek support from elected officials who could vow “that they will not be cooperating with these efforts” to detain immigrants.

Barrett Psareas, a supporter of strict immigration enforcement who is vice-president of the Nassau County Civic Association in Cedarhurst, said the administration was taking the right steps.

“I like the fact that the laws are being enforced, finally,” Psareas said. “It’s definitely promising for the future of not only security, but also of legal immigration” as deportations could clear the way to consider reforms to streamline legal immigration. “Once these particular people” here illegally “are out then we can go back to the drawing board.”

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