The immigration enforcement raids that President Donald Trump said would start Sunday, with mass arrests expected in Miami and other major cities, never got under way as immigrant families with removal orders and others targeted for deportation remained on alert throughout the day, some of them hiding in secret shelters.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were reportedly in Miami’s Sweetwater neighborhood on Sunday and in the migrant farming community of Immokalee on Friday — raising fears, but not much else. There were no large-scale roundups in Miami or any of the other eight cities where raids were expected, though federal authorities said enforcement actions would take place throughout the week.
Trump spent his Sunday golfing at Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Va. Though he was active on Twitter throughout the day — even telling a group of American congresswomen to ‘go back’ to the places from which they came — the president made no mention of the planned immigration sweeps.
The White House declined to comment on the status of ICE raids, and the Department of Homeland Security did not respond to request for comment.
Trump administration officials defended the need for large-scale enforcement while appearing on Sunday morning TV shows.
Kellyanne Conway, a counselor to the president, and Matthew Albence, acting ICE director, delivered similarly vague and combative talking points in interviews with Fox News.
“I won’t discuss operational details, and I would push back on even your terminology of raids,” Conway told Chris Wallace of Fox News. “ICE does this every single day. It’s called enforcement actions.”
Said Albence: “I won’t speak to specifically anything that’s going on from an operational perspective.... But I will say that I think using the term raid does everyone a disservice.”
Spokespersons for U.S. Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, South Florida Democrats, said their offices had not received reports of constituents being arrested by ICE agents on Sunday.
Local elected officials said they, too, had no details about the anticipated raids.
Speaking on MSNBC Sunday afternoon, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez was in the dark about the federal government’s plans.
“It’s created a lot of anxiety,” Suarez said, “but we have not seen a lot of movement. We have not seen anything massive. Frankly, we haven’t gotten any reports of anything happening yet.”
In the absence of the anticipated immigration dragnet, South Florida advocacy groups who had been poised to help those detained instead redirected their efforts to spreading information and awareness of immigrant rights.
They knocked on doors in immigrant-heavy neighborhoods, canvassed churches and supermarkets, and worked to harness the emotional energy of expected raids into a sustained sense of preparedness.
In a Pompano Beach neighborhood about two miles from the Broward Transitional Center detention facility on North Powerline Road, volunteers with the New Florida Majority handed out “Know-Your-Rights” fliers and spoke with residents on their way to work or taking morning walks.
The left-leaning nonprofit, whose staff had also fanned out to Hialeah, Doral and Little Havana, informed immigrants on how to respond when interacting with immigration authorities — telling them not to open the door unless federal agents have a warrant signed by a judge.
“These moments are not just about fear,” said Carlos Naranjo, an organizer with New Florida Majority. “We’re using this as a type of fuel to communicate to our community that there are many ways to defend ourselves ... We want to respond with love and unity.”
Resident Michael Cruz was bicycling to work when Naranjo stopped him to offer tips on what to do if he were stopped by ICE agents. Cruz thanked him and asked for a few extra fliers in Spanish to share with his family.
Naranjo said that although they hadn’t heard reports of ICE raids in the neighborhood on Sunday morning, residents in the area had reported regular patrolling in the recent weeks. He added that the group plans to stay alert for enforcement actions through Thursday.
At the ICE central processing facility in Miramar, all was quiet. No agents were seen entering or leaving the building before sunrise, and only a single RV was stationed inside the fenced-in center.
Also quiet were hot lines set up by attorneys and others who had been anticipating the removal of thousands of immigrants with deportation orders. A few calls came in to the hotline advocates set up, but not to report ICE agents at doors.
“We got one or two calls on our hotline with folks asking, ‘Is there anything going on?’” said Melissa Taveras, of the Florida Immigrant Coalition.
Taveras likened the mood across the network of activists, civil rights lawyers and immigrants to the anxiety before a big storm.
“It’s the same feeling when you wonder, ‘Did the hurricane start?’” she said. “It’s the same stress.” They had not received any calls from immigrants or their families seeking help Sunday morning.
Many advocates and attorneys had been awake before dawn Sunday, scouring social media and checking for messages on text or WhatsApp from clients or other colleagues.
The frantic morning they had anticipated did not come to pass.
“I hope that is a good sign,” said Adonia Simpson, director of family defense for the nonprofit group Americans for Immigrant Justice. Simpson also works with the South Florida chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, or AILA, a voluntary group of attorneys and law professors.
The two groups had assembled a rapid response team of more than 50 attorneys ready to field calls and give advice to detained immigrants and their families, many of whom kept in touch and informed through group texts and social media.
In anticipation of ICE raids, advocacy groups and community activists mobilized to open private homes as shelters for those who felt threatened, staff hot lines and hand out leaflets reminding immigrants of their rights when ICE agents show up at their front door.
“I can’t help but feel like we are waiting for the other shoe to drop,” Simpson said. “Given the anxiety I have been feeling, I can only imagine the fear our immigrant communities feel this morning.”
South Florida immigration attorney Sandy Pineda also hesitated to breathe a sign of relief.
“It’s still too early to tell,” Pineda said.
Others were encouraged that no news was good news.
Tammy Fox-Isicoff, who sits on the board of AILA, told the Miami Herald she would “bet this whole thing is a total bust.
“When you think about it, this has to be optics,” she said. “Who announces this before execution? Of course they have to expect people to run.
“Only Liam Neeson tells someone he’s coming for them,” Fox-Isicoff joked. “We all know he has a special set of skills.”
For many, there was nothing special about Sunday beyond their weekly rituals.
Immigration sources said it’s possible that ICE agents had not acquired the warrants necessary to carry out the removals.
The enforcement actions promised by President Trump had spread fear among immigrants in South Florida, with some families deciding to flee the state ahead of the expected crackdown.
In South Florida, many immigrants come from Central America, South America and the Caribbean, and they make up some of the largest numbers of people with removal orders in the country, according to the Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review or EOIR.
Immigration reform advocates warned that ICE raids risked breaking up families and separating children from their parents. The EOIR shows Miami has one of the highest numbers of immigrant families facing deportation orders among the 10 cities targeted in Sunday’s raids, including Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, New York City and San Francisco.
The agency reported that more than 4,200 families in Miami had been ordered removed since September — second to Houston, where about 5,000 families were adjudicated. Those with removal orders have been through court proceedings and either lost their cases or missed hearings.
Advocates report that many newly arrived immigrants in Miami have had trouble figuring out their court dates. Many facing deportation orders said they refused to leave their families, while others were needed at work.
New York City and Atlanta also have many removal orders, though only New York reported that federal agents had attempted but failed to conduct raids in two neighborhoods on Saturday. ICE agents were rejected by people at the residences because they didn’t have warrants, but planned to return, the Wall Street Journal reported.
In suburban Maryland outside Washington, D.C., an area with large numbers of immigrants, residents reported business as usual. Ditto for Atlanta, where residents reported seeing fewer day laborer vans and taxis — signs that immigrants might be staying home to avoid ICE agents — but no raids.
Sunday’s enforcement sweep was telegraphed by Trump and anticipated by many South Florida politicians.
Trump told reporters on Friday that the roundup would focus on criminals. He had announced a similar raid in June, but it was postponed. A raid planned for New Orleans on Sunday was called off as the region braced for Hurricane Barry to bring torrential rains and worsen flooding the city.
Miami Herald staff writers Alex Daugherty, Joey Flechas, Alex Harris, Amanda Rosa and Martin Vassolo contributed to this report.