Fear of an immigration crackdown led by an aggressive “deportation force” under President Donald Trump spilled into Kansas City area churches on Sunday.
Anxiety among immigrants spiked last week after the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency conducted a series of enforcement actions in large metropolitan areas. Rumors were rampant on social media about looming Sunday morning raids at churches.
After hearing churchgoers in the Kansas City area might be targets, the Kansas-Missouri Dream Alliance along with lawyers, faith leaders and other community organizations mobilized their efforts to protect anyone who might have been picked up in a sweep.
About 45 people met early Sunday at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce offices in downtown Kansas City before heading out at 7 a.m. in teams of three to area churches.
“We wanted to stand up and be out there in case something like the raids started happening within the communities and started targeting undocumented immigrants at churches,” said Robert Sagastume, executive director of the Kansas-Missouri Dream Alliance.
The rumors appeared to have been unfounded. As of late afternoon, there had been no immigration enforcement at churches in the historic Northeast area.
Federal officials insist they have not made fundamental changes in enforcement actions, and they deny stopping people randomly at checkpoints or conducting “sweeps” of locations where undocumented immigrants are common.
“ICE regularly conducts targeted enforcement operations,” said Shawn Neudauer, ICE spokesman for Kansas and Missouri. “All our enforcement activities are conducted with the same high level of professionalism that ICE officers exhibit every day. The focus of these operations is no different than the routine, targeted arrests carried out by ICE’s Fugitive Operations Teams on a daily basis.”
Kansas and Missouri were two of the six states with reports of a crackdown. More than 200 foreign nationals were arrested last week in an operation that ended Friday aiming at immigration fugitives, re-entrants and at-large criminal aliens, according to ICE. Additional details of last week’s enforcement operations are expected to be released as early as Monday.
Meanwhile, Trump on Sunday morning said that with the nationwide crackdown, he is keeping his campaign promise.
“The crackdown on illegal criminals is merely the keeping of my campaign promise,” he tweeted. “Gang members, drug dealers & others are being removed!”
The fear in the community, however, was real.
Abraham Fierro’s mother told him to make sure he had his identification Sunday as he headed to Mass at St. Anthony Catholic Church in Kansas City’s Northeast area. Fierro said he circled the block near other churches along the way to see whether he could spot any ICE agents.
Fierro’s friend Brenda Rizo said she hadn’t heard about the rumors, but the idea of immigration agents at churches would create fear in the Hispanic community.
“You don’t want that,” she said. “You just want to go to church and that peace that you want to find there with your community.”
The thought of immigration agents possibly being there could cause some undocumented families to not want to go, she said.
Also after Mass at St. Anthony on Sunday, Miguel Salazar said it would it would concern him if ICE agents targeted people headed to church. Salazar is the director of Hispanic Ministry for the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, but he couldn’t speak on its behalf.
“It’s a holy place,” Salazar said. “It’s a place of sanctuary. It’s concerning because people see church as a safe place. If law enforcement or other people are targeting us, it’s feels very unsafe.”
The Kansas-Missouri Dream Alliance’s Sagastume said he was happy that nothing happened Sunday. He said the collaboration, however, will remain vigilant in case such raids are conducted in the future.
“This is just not a one-day thing that we will have and be done,” he said.“We just have to make sure that we are ready.”
The main goal is to make sure that ICE agents don’t overstep their powers.
“We want to make sure that there is no collateral damage,” Sagastume said. “That they are not picking up also the mother, the son or the kids who might not be in deportation proceedings.”
Michael Sharma-Crawford, with the Kansas City law firm of Sharma-Crawford Attorneys at Law, was one of the lawyers who was waiting to respond to any enforcement activities at churches Sunday.
He said sweeps typically target people with prior removal orders, which is nothing new.
“But ICE is also using those as an element to question and arrest anyone around them, which is a departure from Immigration and Customs Enforcement,” he said. “People with no criminal history, who may or may not be undocumented in the United States are being swept up in this conduct.”
The mobilization of immigration and defense attorneys on Sunday was to make sure that resources were in place in case they were needed. The collaboration wanted to make sure ICE agents were following the proper process and had the proper documents.
“It’s our job to hold them accountable, and that is what this collaboration has become.” Sharma-Crawford said.