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A week after Austin ICE raids, immigrants and their supporters march in protest

A week after immigration agents launched surprise raids in Austin and surrounding areas, hundreds marched downtown in protest, saying fear has engulfed the Central Texas immigrant community.

Klevelin Lion chants at the front of the "Day Without Immigrants" march on Congress Avenue, Feb. 16, 2017, in Austin, TX.

On Thursday, Briseida Figueroa enjoyed a brief respite from the self-described nightmare she said she’s been living for more than a week.

The Texas State University student and U.S. citizen spent part of the day outside in the balmy Austin weather, taking in the sun while surrounded by friends and family. But she wasn’t at Barton Springs Pool or Zilker Park.

She was one of hundreds marching down Congress Avenue, hoping to draw attention to an atmosphere where she fears her parents will be snatched up by immigration agents and deported back to Mexico.

“Economically, we’re not prepared for this to happen,” she said. “We  have to have plans to sell cars or anything that has monetary value so we can help our family out.”

The panic settled in after Immigration and Customs Enforcement launched a series of raids last week in the capital city and rounded up dozens of undocumented immigrants.

ICE said repeatedly that the roundup was part of a planned sting aimed at ridding the streets of  “individuals who pose a threat to public safety, border security or the integrity of our nation’s immigration system,” according to a statement.

Figueroa still fears the worst, even though her parents — who are in the country illegally but have called Austin home for 30 years — are living what many would consider an example of the American dream. Her father owns his own lawn care business and her mother is a regional manager at McDonalds.

If her parents were deported, Figueroa said, “I am going to be in charge of everything, of the estate of my family. It’s more of a fear about what’s going to happen if they’re gone.”

But as raids continued in other parts of Texas and New Mexico, anxiety has — at least temporarily — turned to action. The march in Austin Thursday was part of a nationwide campaign called A Day Without Immigrants, where immigrants and their supporters left school or work to emphasize how integral immigrants are in society and how much they contribute to the economy.

Aubrean Morris, 18, said she didn’t go to school at Connelly High in North Austin because she wanted to join the march and support her friends, neighbors and classmates.

"Everyone [from school] is here,” she said, adding that her teachers aren’t likely to excuse her absence. “I think they’re pretty mad, but we’re supporting our people."

Others at the rally said immigrants should be valued but that they must also show respect for the United States. While several of the marchers waved the flags of Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, Irving Morales proudly displayed the American flag.

“We all should be waving the American flag because at the end of the day America has always been a nation of immigrants,” said Morales, 22, who serves in the U.S. Army. “I think it is OK to wave the flag that represents them. But at the same point we need to show support for the United States. “

Thursday’s rally came as lawmakers at the Capitol are considering their own state-based immigration efforts that would ban “sanctuary cities.” The current proposal, Senate Bill 4, would punish local governments if their county sheriffs fail to honor "detainers" — requests from ICE officers to hand over immigrants in custody. 

SB 4 would also punish local governments that enact policies preventing local law enforcement from asking people for their immigration status. The proposal has rattled some local leaders who argue the law will erode the trust police have established over decades with immigrant communities.

As the rally died down after it moved to Austin City Hall, Austin Mayor Steve Adler worked the crowd and spoke with several who lingered around the city offices.

SB 4 could be altered or derailed before the legislative session ends May 29. If it passes, Adler said, “Certainly we would comply," but he said the city would look for ways to challenge the law. 

Austin Police Officer Marissa Henson was a little more direct as she patrolled the march, high-fiving immigrants and shaking their hands.

Asked if she thought it was OK for police officers to enforce federal immigration laws, she said without hesitation: “Oh God, no.”

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