Editor’s Note: William Lopez is a clinical assistant professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health and author of the book, “Separated: Family and Community in the Aftermath of an Immigration Raid.” Nicole Novak is an assistant research scientist at the University of Iowa College of Public Health. The views expressed in this commentary belong solely to the authors. View more opinion at CNN.
The fear of being profiled and arrested – whether by ICE or the police with whom they often collaborate – can cause whole communities to avoid their streets and any other public spaces in which they could be detained or questioned. As one community member whose apartment was raided told us as we researched this topic, “Seeing a police car is something that makes me go cold, my body, my skin …”
And while discussions about immigration have focused largely on the southern US border, the threat of ongoing ICE raids offers a grim reminder that the mechanisms of surveillance, removal and family separation extend throughout the US interior, where ICE agents operate in every state, 365 days a year.
As community health researchers, we study the impacts of immigration raids, which can target a single individual in a home or lead to mass arrests of hundreds of people at a work site, as was the case earlier this year when 280 individuals were arrested in Allen, Texas.
Throughout our research, we have spoken to detainees and their families, as well as advocates, lawyers, faith leaders and teachers. We have analyzed data from community surveys and vital records to understand how immigration raids inflict fear and trauma, destabilize families and create widespread distrust of government services of all kinds. In conducting interviews in communities targeted by these raids, we found that raids terrorize and traumatize not only arrested immigrants, but also their children, families and others in their communities. In the aftermath, people are left fearing follow-up raids, scrambling to locate loved ones who have disappeared and seeking new means of survival in the absence of financial providers who have been detained and deported.
According to officials who spoke to the New York Times, collateral arrests – or the arrests of those who happen to be at the site of a raid but are not themselves raid targets – are a component of the raids that were scheduled for this weekend. Lawyers in Virginia, California and elsewhere have argued that arresting those who resemble an immigration enforcement target amounts to legalized racial profiling.
Because raids involve heavily armed officers entering homes and buildings, those who are in facilities while they are raided could develop symptoms of trauma, including nightmares, flashbacks and hypervigilance. We spoke to one woman whose apartment was raided by a joint task force of ICE and local law enforcement. She says her door was kicked in before her brother and nephew were arrested in front of her. In an interview, she said, “it was horrible what they did in that house. Honestly even until now I have nightmares about it, about what they did.”
Often, men are detained during these raids, leaving women and children without financial providers. Mothers must work to keep their families intact and support their children, as they cope with the disappearance of their fathers. The impacts extend far outside of the family as well. After the raid in Bean Station, Tennessee, over 500 kids did not show up for school the next day.
The response, and the emotional aftermath, of these coordinated raids can resemble the devastation following a natural disaster – an unprompted comparison that interviewees consistently make. For example, a church member in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, who responded to the raid of a concrete factory where 32 individuals were arrested, told us that the impact was like “a tornado coming down and taking out 30 houses on the edge of town.”
Oftentimes, churches respond by gathering canned goods, diapers and feminine hygiene products. People are hungry, roads are deserted and blinds are drawn. People fear that their family members will be the next to be taken. Data show that the impacts of raids are so severe they can adversely affect the next generation of children. One study found that children born to Latina mothers the year following the Postville, Iowa, raid in 2008 were more likely to have a low birth weight than their white peers.
We must continue to focus on the border and address the inhumanities that unfold there. At the same time, we must remember that the efforts to detain and deport operate insidiously throughout our country, every day of the year. And there is no sign that these efforts will abate. Speaking to reporters on June 4, then-ICE Director Mark Morgan maintained that interior enforcement will continue to be central to ICE activities.
Yet as harmful as the threat of raids may be, there are many ways to support immigrants and limit these harms. In cities throughout the country, local churches and advocacy groups have sprung into action, educating communities about their rights in case of an encounter with ICE. Some politicians and law enforcement officers have reiterated their refusal to cooperate with ICE.
In our ongoing interviews in raided communities, we see that one of the best predictors of a robust response to immigration raids is a spirit of collaboration between the white citizen community and immigrant community before these raids even happen. While the threat of raids looms large, carefully building and bolstering trusting networks of support for migrant communities – even in periods of comparatively less deportations – can help mitigate this damage.
And though the situation on the border is certainly dire, we cannot ignore the communities throughout the US that face the threat of these raids. Trump administration policies have made ICE efforts increasingly more frequent and violent. We have the power to enact change locally. This is not just a border issue.