Ahead of ICE raids, Miami advocacy groups set up secret shelters for immigrants in fear

An expected crackdown by immigration authorities throughout the country on Sunday is spreading panic among undocumented immigrants in South Florida, with some families deciding to leave their homes or the state altogether, and advocates preparing safe sanctuary spaces in secret locations for those seeking to avoid being caught up in the raids.

“It feels like the apocalypse,” a spokesperson for a national immigrant advocacy group said. “But unfortunately you have to do what you have to do.”

One Florida group told the Miami Herald it is readying various private homes in advance of Sunday’s deportation efforts, as well as canvassing neighborhoods statewide and passing out fliers on immigrant rights in English, Spanish and Creole.

“We are holding info sessions, knocking on doors, talking to people in flea markets and restaurants; we’re staffing up our volunteers and lawyers, as well as providing an option for people who may feel threatened and unsafe in their homes,” said a spokesperson for the group, who requested anonymity to talk about the preparations.

Another advocacy group with a national profile said it is gathering supplies like sleeping bags and food to distribute to some of their employees’ homes and churches where families might decide to seek shelter.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents are expected to target the homes of thousands of immigrant families with deportation orders Sunday in Miami, as well as Atlanta, Baltimore/Washington, D.C., Chicago, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles and San Diego, New Orleans, New York City, and San Francisco.

Several national and local organizations, as well as immigration lawyers and immigrant families, which agreed to speak with the Miami Herald, asked not to be identified because it is against the law to harbor undocumented immigrants. ICE officials declined to comment when the Herald asked about the agency’s stance on sheltering undocumented immigrants.

Some families at risk aren’t taking any chances. One undocumented immigrant who lives in South Miami-Dade with her two children told the Herald she’s leaving the state altogether before Sunday.

“I can’t stay here. I took days off of work and already left,” she said. “My kids and I are going to take a small vacation and I’m not sure when we’ll be back.”

Another family said they would be “off the grid” at the homes of friends and relatives, while others are preparing to move out of their homes altogether.

“Lots of people are on the fence. At the end of the day some people want to take a stance and stay in their homes,” one sanctuary organizer said. “But people are wrestling with that insecurity. Do they flee, or do they stay?”

A raid by agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Riverside, California. Nationwide raids to arrest thousands of members of undocumented families have been scheduled to begin on Sunday, July 14. MELISSA LYTTLE NYT

Aside from offering families a safe haven, thousands of immigration attorneys nationwide are equipping their clients with information. On Thursday, the American Immigration Lawyers Association sent out a mass email with resources on “knowing your rights,” as well as links to “local raids response hotlines,” and ICE detention locators.

“[We have been] reaching out to [our] contacts and working with partners to prepare for a possible massive enforcement action,” Gregory Z. Chen, American Immigration Lawyers Association’s director of government relations, said in an email, which references a resources web page the group created. “These resources are the most comprehensive of any I have seen and include both national and local government as well as non-government and local community resources.”

The mass deportation efforts were originally slated to start late last month but were delayed after the Herald and other media revealed the agency’s plan to round up thousands of immigrant families.

Law enforcement sources told the Herald that Sunday’s operation is expected to be smaller than that previously planned, but that people with deportation orders will still be the target. They also said they would be asking other members of the household of an undocumented immigrant for their immigration documents.

Because South Florida doesn’t have family detention centers, ICE will utilize area hotels to hold families for a maximum of 24 hours before they are transferred to facilities out of state. Local jails may also be used for adults.

ICE officials told the Herald in an email that “the agency will not offer specific details related to enforcement operations.”

“As always, ICE prioritizes the arrest and removal of unlawfully present aliens who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security.”

Monique O. Madan covers immigration and enterprise; she previously covered breaking news and local government. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Boston Herald and The Dallas Morning News. She is currently a Reveal Fellow at the Center for Investigative Reporting. She graduated from Miami Dade College and Emerson College in Boston. A note to tipsters: If you want to send Monique confidential information, her email and mailbox are open. The address is 3511 NW 91st Ave, Doral, FL 33172. You can also direct message her on social media and she’ll provide encrypted Signal details.