Deportations, Rumors Stir Fear Among Immigrants The federal government is stepping up its deportation raids, though authorities say criminals are the priority. Still, the actions are sending a chill through the Central American immigrant community.
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Deportations, Rumors Stir Fear Among Immigrants

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Deportations, Rumors Stir Fear Among Immigrants

Deportations, Rumors Stir Fear Among Immigrants

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now we're going to switch gears to a sensitive and emotional issue here in the U.S., and that is the treatment of undocumented immigrants. Late last year, the Department of Homeland Security confirmed reports that it was going to step up efforts to detain and remove people with deportation orders. The arrests began in January and started the rumor mill churning. And now some people fear that the arrests have set off some unintended consequences. We have the first of two reports on this from NPR Code Switch team. Jasmine Garsd reports from Langley Park, Md., which is a hub for Central American immigrants.

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: I meet up with Giovanni in his car at the parking lot of a fast-food joint. Outside, it's pouring rain. He shows me pictures of his two sons, both U.S. citizens. He says he's been talking more with his sister about what he calls plan B for him and his children.

GIOVANNI: (Through interpreter) I have a little money saved. The day I'm no longer here or something happens to me, I want you to give it to them.

GARSD: These days, he worries a lot more about being sent back to Honduras, and he's keeping his ear to the ground. This all started on the first week of January when DHS stepped up its enforcement nationwide. Giovanni's phone started blowing up with calls from worried friends.

GIOVANNI: (Through interpreter) Don't come to Langley Park. They're stopping people. If they even see you have a Hispanic face, they'll catch you and send you back. Well, OK then, I said. I'm staying home.

GARSD: DHS declined to be interviewed by NPR. But in official statements, the agency says most of the arrests have taken place in Georgia, Texas and North Carolina. There are no official reports of arrests in Maryland. Still, a blanket of anxiety has fallen over this community.

GEORGE ESCOBAR: Obviously, there is fear all over. But we do our best to try to filter through the information people give us.

GARSD: George Escobar is one of the leaders at CASA in Maryland, an immigrant advocacy organization. At the start of the year, they set up a hotline to field people's concerns about immigration enforcement. At first, Escobar says, they got as many as 150 calls a day, many from people who claim they were seeing immigration officers in the area.

ESCOBAR: Immigration officials knocking on people's doors, entering into their apartments, immigration vehicles being parked in very public spaces in the middle of the day.

GARSD: On the local Spanish-language radio, 107.9 El Zol, host Pedro Biaggi asked what's on everyone's mind.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PEDRO BIAGGI: (Speaking Spanish).

GARSD: "If the cops suspect someone with a deportation order is in the house, they can just come in."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking Spanish).

GARSD: "No," says a CASA executive who is a guest on the program. "In this country," he explains, "they need a warrant." Giovanni has heard all of this, and he also knows he does not fall into DHS' priority list. They're looking for recent arrivals, criminals and people with deportation orders. He doesn't fall into any of those categories.

GIOVANNI: (Through interpreter) It's still scary because I've heard of people getting picked up in Langley Park. I've never seen an immigration police car or an immigration official. I've seen it on TV but never live. I haven't had the pleasure.

GARSD: For many people like Giovanni, it doesn't matter whether the rumors are true. The fear is real. Jasmine Garsd, NPR News, Langley Park, Md.

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