Expected federal raids targeting immigrants in the country illegally hadn't materialized in any great numbers as of late Sunday night either in New York City or Long Island, authorities and advocates said. But the fear of the raids was real.
On Long Island, many in immigrant communities skipped church or work and stayed home behind locked doors to keep under the radar, said Patrick Young, downstate advocacy director for New York Immigration Coalition based in Hempstead. A laundromat on Post Avenue in Westbury that typically has about 20 patrons on Sunday mornings had only three, he said. Traffic to Young's blog with legal advice for immigrants rose eightfold this weekend as people sought to prepare for possible arrests, he said. And immigrants are likely to keep their children out of school this week, he said, when more raids are expected.
"People are very frightened," Young said. "We know in the past, these raids generate more fear than arrests."
Young advised immigrants not to open their doors if ICE agents arrive, especially if they do not have a court order.
There were reports since Friday of ICE having personnel out in Brentwood, Freeport, Hempstead, Huntington Station and Port Jefferson Station, but there was no word of any large-scale detentions, immigrant advocates said Sunday.
The New York City mayor's office had heard about only three attempts Saturday by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, when its personnel apparently tried unsuccessfully in at least two neighborhoods, East Harlem and Sunset Park, Brooklyn, to detain immigrants who are in the country illegally. But as of 11:15 p.m. Sunday, there were no confirmed raids reported to city government Sunday, according to Mayor Bill de Blasio's spokeswoman Freddi Goldstein.
“Hearing the same from the other cities,” Goldstein said in a text message.
Nevertheless, earlier, residents and merchants in Sunset Park said many immigrants were afraid to leave their homes, and that others had left the area to stay with friends or family elsewhere until the raids end.
They said sidewalks in the melting pot neighborhood — home to immigrants from Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean and Asia — were markedly empty Sunday, a day after ICE agents searched at two locations in Sunset Park and one in Harlem.
“People don’t take their kids to the park because they are afraid if they are asked for documents and they don't have them, they will be taken away in front of their kids” said one merchant who did not want to be identified for fear of being targeted. “Business is slow because people don't want to spend money. People are afraid they will be detained.”
President Donald Trump announced the operation on Twitter last week. It is to take place in New York, Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami and San Francisco. The operation targeted about 2,000 immigrants who had been ordered by courts to be removed from the country.
Trump administration officials, facing heavy criticism for overcrowded conditions at ICE facilities near the southern border, the separation of children from parents and allegations of abusive behavior by agents, on Sunday talk shows promised compassion but offered few details about the raids.
Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said on CNN's "State of the Union" that ICE agents were targeting people who have federal removal orders and have "gotten due process."
"We’ve got compassionate, loyal ICE agents who are just doing their job," Cuccinelli said. "They’ve got a court order on a piece of paper, a federal order, that says they’ve gotten due process, and [there are] over a million people with removal orders. That’s the pool that ICE is drawing from."
Asked if he could guarantee that children wouldn't be separated from their families, Cuccinelli told Tapper, “That would be an operational detail that I’m not going to comment on.”
Mark Morgan, acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said on CBS' "Face The Nation" that "in this case," ICE's priority "will be to go after those that are criminal aliens, meaning those people who are here illegally and have committed additional crimes against American citizens."
Morgan said, "of course the design is not about family separation." He said ICE agents "are going to apply this with ... humanity and compassion."
When Tapper mentioned "dangerous criminals," Cuccinelli said "that remains the priority for ICE." But he added, "that will not be the exclusive limit of any operations."
De Blasio, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for the White House, said Trump was destroying immigrants’ lives to make political points.
"This is not about the security of the people of this country and it is not about enforcing the law," de Blasio said during a news conference in Manhattan Sunday. "This is a political act by this president. He has politicized a United States government agency to help win reelection. That is what is happening right now. He is stoking fear and he is trying to pit immigrant against citizen in a way that is very cynical.”
Amid rising anger over conditions at federal detention centers, officials said the government was prepared to house detainees on a long-term basis. Morgan, of Customs and Border Protection, said those detained during the raid will go to ICE's "family residential centers" that are designed to house families on a long-term basis.
With Matthew Chayes and Rachelle Blidner