Reports of immigration raids swept across Texas and the rest of the nation Friday, sparking protests and press conferences. But in Austin and elsewhere, it was difficult to find hard evidence of actual raids, and federal officials insisted their agents were simply conducting routine enforcement.
Immigrant lawyers and advocacy groups have sounded alarms in multiple cities over what they called unusual enforcement activity by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. In Los Angeles, the American Civil Liberties Union tweeted: "URGENT: ICE conducted multiple raids of homes across the city." Protests erupted soon after.
The Washington Post reported sweeping immigration raids in at least six states, including Texas. Quoting immigration activists, the Post reported raids in Austin, Dallas and Pflugerville, and said there were also reports of an ICE checkpoint in Austin that targeted immigrants for random ID checks. But it provided few details about specific cases.
Details have also been scant in Austin, where a pair of arrests following traffic stops by ICE agents led to a downtown protest and a press conference denouncing ICE activities. The Mexican Consulate told the Austin American-Statesman that ICE detained 44 Mexican immigrants Thursday and Friday — compared to four or five a day typically — but it didn't indicate the circumstances surrounding the detentions.
Following reports that an immigration officer suffered minor injuries after arresting an undocumented immigrant in North Austin, Austin City Council members Greg Casar and Delia Garza spoke to reporters outside the Little Walnut Creek public library, joined by representatives of the Worker's Defense Project, Education Austin, and the Texas chapter of the AFL-CIO.
"This is something very different than what we've seen before," Casar said. "[Donald] Trump and allies will do everything they can to divide Americans and demonize communities. It's clear people like Trump try to get political gain by creating fear and hostility — these ICE actions magnify that fear."
In a statement on Facebook Friday morning, Casar said his office had confirmed "a large amount of [ICE] actions in Austin in the last 24 hours."
Casar said he's received several calls from constituents expressing fear about the situation, but he couldn't offer details on ICE actions beyond a Friday arrest in North Austin. Austin police told the Austin American-Statesman that an ICE agent made a traffic stop and was trying to arrest a person in the vehicle when the suspect's family members tried to intervene.
"We don't understand it," Garza said, "but the ripple effect is... it's invited fear in the community."
The other reported arrest happened in East Austin, where a Honduran woman called an immigrant support group to report that ICE agents had pulled over and detained her husband on Thursday; a protest followed at a downtown federal building, the Statesman reported.
ICE spokeswoman Adelina Pruneda told the Tribune that the agency doesn't conduct random sweeps and its enforcement actions are based on investigative leads. "By removing from the streets criminal aliens and other threats to the public, ICE helps improve public safety," Pruneda said.
San Antonio Congressman Joaquin Castro said Friday that ICE had confirmed to him that the agency was conducting a "targeted operation" in parts of Texas.
“I have been informed by ICE that the agency’s San Antonio field office has launched a targeted operation in South and Central Texas as part of Operation Cross Check," Castro said in a written statement. "I am asking ICE to clarify whether these individuals are in fact dangerous, violent threats to our communities, and not people who are here peacefully raising families and contributing to our state. I will continue to monitor this situation.”
State Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway, said it was “outrageous” that two elected officials in Austin publicly backed undocumented immigrants over law enforcement.
“Not only does questioning law enforcement put our communities at risk,” Buckingham said in a written statement, “it paints a bull’s-eye on the backs of the brave men and women sworn to protect us under extremely challenging circumstances.”
Tensions in Texas immigrant communities have risen since Trump became president — after campaigning on promises to build a border wall and deport undocumented immigrants en masse — and the state Legislature began debating bills to ban so-called "sanctuary cities." Earlier this week, the Texas Senate passed Senate Bill 4 that would penalize local governments that don't cooperate with federal immigration officials to enforce immigration laws.
Separately, newly-elected Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez launched a policy last month to reduce the county's cooperation with federal immigration officials, and Gov. Greg Abbott soon after carried out his threat to strip $1.5 million in criminal justice grants from Travis County.