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In Indianapolis, undocumented immigrant community making contingency plans

March 5th, 2017 | Indianapolis Star | Link to Article

Amid immigration crackdowns, undocumented immigrants living in unease

The restaurant worker spoke with a note of pleading in his voice.

"Really," he said, "we're not stealing anyone's job. I assure you."

The 48-year-old man from Monterrey, Mexico, supports his wife working at a local pizzeria in Indianapolis. He contributes to the economy, he said. He is not violent. He has never been in trouble with police.

He also is scared.

The man, who spoke to IndyStar on the condition his name not be used, acknowledged that he is living in the U.S. illegally. He crossed the border in 2001 to work with his brother after he lost his job in Mexico. He met a woman and got married.

Over the past 16 years, he has lived here, his ties to the community have deepened. But now, in the wake of President Donald Trump's push to more actively enforce immigration laws, he faces the possibility of deportation — and a difficult question: How would he support his wife, who is a legal permanent resident?

"It's scaring people," he said. "It's creating a madness."

The restaurant worker is far from alone in his angst. He also is, of course, far from having the only opinion on Trump's immigration policy. That policy of increased enforcement and a more secure border resonates with many, in part because of the belief that illegal immigrants have driven down wages, taken away jobs and become a burden on taxpayers, but also as a means to better control who enters the country amid concerns over terrorist attacks.

Among the key components of Trump's plan is for federal immigration agents to actively seek out and deport those who are here illegally, unlike past administrations' focus on deportation of those who have committed a crime after entering the country.

For immigrants, that threat became all-too-real Wednesday. Moments after she spoke out about her fears of deportation, Daniela Vargas, 22, was detained by federal immigration agents Wednesday morning after speaking at a news conference in Jackson, Miss., the Clarion Ledger reported.

Such incidents not only have immigrants in Indianapolis on edge, it also has them scurrying to come up with "what if" plans. And the manifestation of living in fear is playing out in myriad ways.

Attorneys and social workers told IndyStar they are fielding fearful calls anytime people see police activity in their neighborhood; usually it's local law enforcement on routine calls.

Employers are reporting difficulties with workers uneasy about coming to work. Some businesses who have a large Latino customer base have noticed a drop in sales, in part because many immigrants are avoiding public places, but also because they are saving as much money as possible.

Parents with children have particular concerns. Many are drawing up guardianship documents so that their children are cared for if they are deported. They also are lining up friends and family to pick up children from school — in the event they are whisked away in the middle of the day.

Even churches are feeling an effect. Pastors at predominantly Latino churches have noticed some families have stopped coming. They assume congregants are steering clear of Spanish-speaking gatherings.

That angst also has compelled public agencies to respond. The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department is reaching out to Latino businesses and community members, citing IMPD's separation from immigration authorities, and urging the community to still call police. Indianapolis Public Schools last month resolved to not assist immigration enforcement efforts unless they are legally required to do so .

An atmosphere of fear

For at least one Indianapolis family, the threat of deportation has become a reality.

Linda Kelly, a professor at Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law who runs an immigration clinic, is trying to resolve a case involving a 15-year-old girl and her mother from Honduras who were detained in Indianapolis on Feb. 22.

At some point after the mother and daughter entered the U.S. in October, they became under court supervision that required them to check in with an immigration judge. However, when the daughter missed a January court date, Kelly said, she and her mother were sent to a detention facility in Texas, and then moved to one in Pennsylvania.

"I have not seen immigration go to these lengths, picking up mothers and children for nothing more than [a missed court date]," Kelly said.

In similar past cases, Kelly said, she usually was able to resolve the matter with the court before deportation proceedings began.

"What is the sense of picking up basically innocent people?" Kelly said. "Why are the resources being used this way?"

In particular, the fear and uncertainty are affecting families who may be torn apart if loved ones are deported.

Edward Shomo, an Indianapolis immigration attorney, said he is creating emergency packets for parents who fear they could be detained while their children are in school. The packets contain information about who should pick up children from school. Other attorneys are drawing up guardianship agreements.

"The last thing parents want is for their kid to end up with a social worker while they are being processed for deportation," Shomo said.

There is risk of separation, too, for citizens or legal permanent residents who are married to someone who is undocumented.

“There is a myth that if you simply get married to an immigrant, they are protected from deportation,” said Clare Corado, an Indianapolis immigration attorney. “There are a lot of people who are married to immigrants and they can’t fix their status."

The results, Corado said, could be devastating for many families.

And the unease isn't limited to immigrants from Mexico and Central America. Individuals targeted under the temporary travel ban targeting seven majority Muslim countries are frightened to move about the country.

“I have one client who told me they are afraid to travel to Utah,” said Thomas R. Ruge, director at Lewis & Kappes, a law firm in Indianapolis. “They are, of course, very alarmed. There’s a massive uptick in inquiries.”

To some undocumented immigrants, even traditional safe-havens, such as Spanish-speaking churches, may feel like easy targets for federal raids.

But Sister Tracey Horan, a Catholic sister who is a community organizer for the Indianapolis Congregation Action Network, said that while the political climate has pushed some immigrants into being wary of public places, it also has emboldened others to act, and speak out on behalf of the undocumented.

"Some people are afraid," Horan said. "Other people are saying, 'If we don't do it, who will?'"

An economic impact?

The increased enforcement effort also could create ripples across the Indianapolis’ economy,  according to some local business owners.

“There is going to be a big slow down in construction work and a huge increase in the cost of houses,” said Hector Lozano, a general contractor who buys houses and resells them. “Who do you think does the drywalling, flooring, painting on construction projects?”

The Indianapolis resident is already seeing a direct impact.

He had a plan in place to sell a $60,000 home to an undocumented woman and her daughter attending college, but the sale was terminated last month. The mom and daughter chose to leave the country rather than risk deportation.

“It’s so unfortunate because this is a blue-collar worker and her daughter in nursing school trying to live the American dream,” Lozano told IndyStar. “This is not just going to affect immigrants, this is going to have a terrible effect on the economy.”

But while some see immigrant labor as necessary and undocumented workers as tax-paying, goods-purchasing contributors to the economy, others are just as adamant that undocumented immigrants drive down wages, deprive others of job opportunities and create a burden on taxpayers that ultimately hurts the economy.

Larger businesses organizations have remained largely silent on the issue.

A spokeswoman for the Indiana Chamber of Commerce declined to comment on how a mass deportation effort would affect business.

“We need to see more details,” said Rebecca Patrick, a spokeswoman for the chamber said in an emailed statement to IndyStar.

'We're their police'

On a cold, but sunny afternoon Friday, IMPD Chief Bryan Roach walked through his old stomping grounds, along Washington Street in the department's Southwest District, which is home to a large Latino population. Accompanied by Mayor Joe Hogsett and a crew of police officers, Roach sought to reassure the city's immigrant community, particularly if anyone in the community would refrain from reaching out for help out of fear of deportation.

Local police officers don't work with federal immigration authorities, he said. And police officers do not ask questions about immigration status when responding to an incident.

"Nothing has changed for us," Roach told IndyStar. "We need them to feel safe."

In the Marion County Jail, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has access to the arrest records, given that they are public records, said Katie Carlson, spokeswoman for the Marion County sheriff's department. But the jail itself does not address questions about immigration status, she said.

Inside a grocery store on Washington Street, Roach asked a store clerk, with an officer translating, whether he had any public safety concerns. The clerk replied that the late-night workers sometimes don't feel safe closing the shop at night. Some additional police presence on the streets could help. Roach said he would let the district commander know.

"We're their police," he said.