In Orange County, California, dozens of immigrant parents have signed legal documents authorizing friends and relatives to pick up their children from school and access their bank accounts to pay their bills in the event they are arrested by immigration agents.
In Philadelphia, immigrants are carrying around wallet-size “Know Your Rights” guides in Spanish and English that explain what to do if they’re rounded up.
And in New York, 23-year-old Zuleima Dominguez and other members of her Mexican family are careful about answering the door and start making worried phone calls when someone doesn’t come home on time.
Around the country, President Donald Trump’s efforts to crack down on the estimated 11 million immigrants living illegally in the U.S. have spread fear and anxiety and led many people to brace for arrest and to change up their daily routines in hopes of not getting caught.
In El Paso, Texas, Carmen Ramos and her friends have developed a network to keep each other updated via text messages on where immigration checkpoints have been set up.
She said she also is making certain everything she does is in order at all times. She checks her taillights before leaving the house to make sure they are working. She won’t speed and keeps a close eye on her surroundings.
“We are surprised that even a ticket can get us back to Mexico,” said the 41-year-old Ramos, who with her husband and three children left Ciudad Juarez because of drug violence and death threats in 2008 and entered the U.S. on tourist visas that have since expired. “We wouldn’t have anywhere to return.”
An undocumented Guatemalan migrant mother and her son have called an Austin, Texas, church home for more than a year. Hilda Ramirez says they were fleeing the danger of their country and were caught by immigration authorities as they illegally crossed the border at Texas in 2014. After they were released from a holding facility, a pastor allowed them to live on church grounds.
The unease among immigrants has been building but intensified in recent weeks with ever-clearer signs that the Trump administration would jettison the Obama-era policy of focusing mostly on deporting those who had committed serious crimes.
The administration announced Tuesday that any immigrant in the country illegally who is charged with or convicted of any offense, or even suspected of a crime, will now be an enforcement priority. That could include people arrested for shoplifting or other minor offenses, or those who simply crossed the border illegally.
Some husbands and wives fear spouses who lack legal papers could be taken away. And many worry that parents will be separated from their U.S.-born children.
Dozens of immigrants have been turning up at an advocacy group’s offices in Philadelphia, asking questions like, “Who will take care of my children if I am deported?” They also are coached on how to develop a “deportation plan” that includes the name and number of an attorney and other emergency contacts in case of arrest.
An organization in Austin, Texas, that runs a deportation hotline said it normally would receive one or two calls every few days. After recent immigration raids, the phone rang off the hook.
“We got over 1,000 phone calls in three days about the raids,” said Cristina Parker, immigration programs director for Grassroots Leadership. “And certainly a lot of those were people who wanted information about the raids saying, ‘I’m scared, I’m worried, what can I do?’… A lot of them were people who were impacted by the raids who saw a friend or family be taken.”
Immigrants in the Chicago area have said they are scared to drive, and some are even wary of taking public transit. When Chicago police and federal authorities conducted regular safety checks on a train line earlier this month, many assumed it was an immigration checkpoint.
Word spread so quickly that Chicago police issued a statement assuring immigrants, “You are welcome here.”
In Arizona, immigrant Abril Gallardo said the policies have prompted new conversations with her parents and siblings. Her father, who’s in the country illegally, made sure all the taillights work in the van he drives to his construction job in the Phoenix area. They look through the window if anyone knocks.
Her brother is getting married this weekend, and immigrant friends were reluctant to drive to the bridal shower.
“We have a regular life, but with this new executive order, anyone, just for the fact that you’re here, you can become a priority,” said Gallardo, 26, who is in the U.S. with permission under the Obama administration policy for people who entered illegally as children.
In the Bronx, Dominguez, a college student protected from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, is looking into what she needs to do to raise her American-born brother and sister, ages 6 and 11, if their parents are deported.
When Dominguez goes out, she tells the others where she is going, with whom, and when she will be home, and expects the same from her parents and siblings. If someone is late getting home, she said, “we start calling.”