By 5 p.m. Saturday, the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph had determined that a rumor of pending immigration sweeps at area Sunday Masses was false.
But social media had decided otherwise.
So Sunday dawned with Kansas City’s immigrant communities in a panic. Pews were sparsely filled at some church services. And advocates spent the day chasing unsubstantiated rumblings.
No raids occurred. But the area was a part of a nationwide sweep. Now, days later, fears haven’t subsided. That’s the power of uncertainty, despite efforts to tamp down overreactions.
Local churches are querying their parishioners to determine whether members have gone missing. The diocese and individual parishes are working on plans to manage future threats, both real and perceived, more effectively. Some congregations of various faiths are considering offering sanctuary to select immigrants, shielding those who might be unfairly targeted for deportation. And immigration attorneys continue tracking reports of recent arrests, trying to decipher facts from hyperbole.
The unease continues, despite a heartening turnout early Sunday.
Nearly 50 people arrived by 6 a.m. for a downtown meeting, ready to fan out at area churches. Throughout the day, teams chased down rumors of arrests, sorting through cellphone pictures of what some thought were immigration arrests. They canvassed soccer fields, markets and other places where many immigrants live and work.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement reported that 26 people were arrested in removal operations in the Kansas City area, part of about 680 arrests nationwide. But those arrests were made before the weekend started, part of regular targeted enforcement by ICE. The rumors spun, in part, from news of those arrests.
Who the people who were arrested are and whether they are all immigrants with public safety-related criminal convictions is still not completely known. Also unexplained is the 25 percent of immigrants who were arrested nationwide who didn’t fit the criminal profile (convicted gang members down to assault and DUI) that has long been used to prioritize who ICE agents will target for deportation.
People are not arguing that convicted violent criminals deserve reprieves. They’re worried about the troublesome stories that are emerging.
A 23-year-old man in Seattle who has been in the country since he was 7 years old was detained. He’d qualified for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals).
To be eligible, people must go through what most would agree is extreme vetting: background checks, photographs, fingerprints and documentation to show character and detail their lives in the U.S.
Hundreds of similar DACA recipients live in the Kansas City region, with many enrolled in area colleges and universities. The Seattle man’s story undercuts the misconception that if immigrants only follow the rules and do the right thing, they are safe.
ICE continues to emphasize that it does not conduct sweeps, checkpoints or raids.
What has changed under President Donald Trump’s executive order is that the focus has widened on who might be targeted or merely caught up as collateral damage. Trump also gave more discretion to agents to arrest anyone they happen upon. So trepidation is growing.
Those people might obtain a cancellation of their removal orders if they have clean records and can substantiate reasons to remain in the country, say for young U.S.-born children. But an immigrant must quickly receive competent legal help to even broach that very limited possibility.
For now, religious leaders and other advocates are emphasizing a call to faith and conscience to recognize immigrants as neighbors.
They’re organizing to accompany detained people at immigration court hearings. Others will write letters of support as character references and pass out “Know Your Rights” documents.
Last weekend was only a dry run for what most assume will be an ongoing crackdown that could stray far from a narrow focus on convicted violent criminal immigrants.
Despite efforts to calm, fears have festered. And they continue, for good reason.