Fear of raids grips S. Fla. immigrant workers
Rumors about random raids by immigration agents are sparking widespread fear among unauthorized immigrants in South Florida.
Panic gripped South Florida’s undocumented immigrant communities as
rumors spread throughout the nation that immigration agents were
conducting random raids — detaining people on the streets, in stores,
restaurants and shopping malls.
From Homestead to Key Biscayne and Aventura — and from Pembroke
Pines to Lake Worth — potentially thousands of undocumented immigrants
are staying home this week. Many fear venturing onto the streets lest
they wind up deported, even though no evidence surfaced of widespread
Business managers throughout South Florida said they saw a dramatic
drop in the number of immigrant workers showing up at work sites since
Monday. In Homestead, where anywhere from 200 to 300 workers wait on a
street corner near Krome Avenue most every morning to be picked up by
employers, only a couple dozen were spotted Tuesday.
Mario, an undocumented Guatemalan in Homestead who would not give
his last name, said he was afraid to go out since reports of
immigration raids began over the weekend.
”I try to go find work in the morning and then go straight home
after I finish working,” he said. “Before, I’d go and do some
shopping or get together with friends after work.”
Dan Shaw, president and chief executive officer of Associated
Builders and Contractors in Coconut Creek, said more than 100 immigrant
construction workers had left work sites in Broward and other parts of
South Florida and not returned since rumors began.
”This scared off immigrants at multiple work sites,” Shaw said.
But even though immigration agents conduct operations, and detain
foreign nationals every day, they generally go after people wanted for
crimes or those who have evaded deportation orders. Immigration
authorities insisted they do not engage in random raids.
In fact, there was no evidence that any of the raids people called
The Miami Herald about over the last three days actually happened.
The rumors appeared to be just that.
Nevertheless, they spread alarm through South Florida’s tense
immigrant communities — just days before planned marches and rallies,
and a proposed immigrant work stoppage on Monday, as part of
International Workers Day.
Some immigrant rights activists worried that the loud, national
debate over undocumented workers’ future had left many nervous and
Opponents, they suggested, could be spreading rumors of raids just to scare workers away from political events.
”I honestly think it’s psychological warfare in retaliation against
immigrants in anticipation of the May 1 protests,” said Jonathan Fried
of WeCount! in Homestead.
Raid rumors were not limited to South Florida.
Homeland Security officials said they were flooded with telephone
calls around the country from the media and the public about the
alleged random raids by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.
”ICE agents conduct operations every single day in locations around
the country,” said Jamie Zuieback, an ICE spokeswoman in Washington.
“Operations are not random sweeps, but carefully planned enforcement
actions that result from investigative leads and intelligence.”
U.S. officials said they believe the rumors started after Homeland
Security Secretary Michael Chertoff last week announced a crackdown
against employers who hire undocumented foreign workers.
Chertoff’s announcement came coupled with the disclosure that ICE
agents detained 1,187 unauthorized immigrants in 26 states, including
38 in Tampa.
Then on Monday, ICE officials in Miami announced the biggest sweep
of criminal and undocumented immigrants in Florida in a decade.
A total of 183 people, including 43 convicted criminals, were detained in the Miami area and three other cities.
Most of the migrants, 130, had evaded deportation orders — but
another 53 were detained because they were nearby when immigration
officials found the alleged absconders.