Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was set this month to conduct “Operation Mega,” a nationwide immigration enforcement operation that advocates said would be “historic in size,” targeting up to 10,000 undocumented people. But it may not go as planned as hurricanes pummel the United States.
Hurricane Harvey cleanup is underway in Texas, where U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) refused to close immigration checkpoints, forcing undocumented immigrants to risk detainment and deportation for evacuating. Hurricane Irma, a category four storm, is expected to devastate Florida and is predicted to “slam into Miami” this weekend, devastating the the Bahamas and Cuba in the process.
It’s unclear if Texas and Florida would have been a focus of Operation Mega. An estimated 1.7 million undocumented immigrants resided in Texas and 850,000 in Florida as of 2014. Florida is home to thousands of Haitian Temporary Protected Status (TPS) recipients who have been ordered to prepare to leave the country by January after the Trump administration refused to extend their status beyond six months.
“While we generally do not comment on future potential law enforcement actions, operational plans are subject to change based on a variety of factors. Due to the current weather situation in Florida and other potentially impacted areas, along with the ongoing recovery in Texas, [ICE] had already reviewed all upcoming operations and has adjusted accordingly,” ICE said in a statement to Rewire. “There is currently no coordinated nationwide operation planned at this time. The priority in the affected areas should remain focused on life-saving and life-sustaining activities.”
Whether Operation Mega is being postponed for better weather is unknown. ICE may move forward with large-scale enforcement operations outside regions affected by hurricane weather. In its statement to Rewire, ICE said its “fugitive operations teams will continue to target and arrest criminal aliens and other individuals who are in violation of our nation’s immigration laws, in non-affected areas of the country, as part of routine operations.”
Detention Watch Network (DWN), the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC), National Immigration Law Center, United We Dream (UWD) and the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC) alerted the media of ICE’s operation, and condemned the federal immigration agency for its “wholesale and escalating attack on all immigrants” and for the Trump administration’s “anti-immigrant and white supremacist agenda.”
“Operation Mega is a cynical attempt by ICE to manipulate the congressional appropriations process. It is no coincidence that this operation is planned for the last weeks of the government’s fiscal year. ICE is intentionally elevating detention numbers before the new fiscal year to claim an ‘operational need’ for more funding and more detention beds,” Silky Shah, executive director of Detention Watch Network, said in a statement. “For too long, even members of Congress who have condemned attacks against immigrant communities have voted to fund ICE to implement those same attacks. With Operation Mega, ICE has once again shown its hand. ICE’s ‘need’ for additional funding is politically manufactured and neither Congress nor taxpayers should reward such cruel and cynical behavior.”
Despite President Trump’s stated plans for “mass deportations,” the United States is actually deporting people more slowly under Trump than it did under Obama, who undocumented communities referred to as the “deporter-in-chief.” According to data from ICE, from February 1 to June 30 ICE officials removed 84,473 people—a rate of roughly 16,900 people per month. “If deportations continue at the same clip until the fiscal year ends Sept. 30, federal immigration officials will have removed fewer people than they did during even the slowest years of Barack Obama’s presidency,” Politico reported.
In anticipation of continued, large-scale immigration enforcement operations, undocumented communities are developing safety plans and attending Know Your Rights workshops. “Deportation defense cards” can be found online, and the Immigrant Defense Project has an online toolkit for protecting undocumented communities.
Advocacy groups are encouraging local, state, and federal elected officials to work with their constituents “to record abuses and human rights violations committed by ICE agents in the community and in immigration detention centers. State and local elected officials should also take immediate steps to ensure that local and state resources are not used to help implement Operation Mega or other enforcement actions,” according to a statement from the organizations.
“We encourage community members at risk to review their safety plans and tips for how they can defend their rights if they encounter ICE,” said Mary Meg McCarthy, executive director of the National Immigrant Justice Center. “All people have the right to remain silent. If stopped or arrested, you do not have to answer an immigration agent’s questions. If an immigration agent knocks on your door and does not have a warrant, do not open the door.”