Since Immigration and Customs Enforcement embarked on a series of raids in early February, attorney George Lobb’s phone has been ringing off the hook.
The raids incited panic within the immigrant community around Austin, as many feared that anyone could be taken and deported as opposed to the high-risk offenders who are usually targets of these ICE raids.
“It was a targeted increase to have the effect that it did, which was to scare people who shouldn’t be affected,” Lobb said.
As part of the Austin Lawyers Guild of nonprofit and paid-for attorneys, Lobb has been providing help for undocumented immigrants seeking asylum or who were targeted in the raid.
In recent years, Lobb said he’s seen an increase in clients who have overstayed visas with no criminal history, who have been here for “10 plus years with children born in the States, and all of them paying their taxes.”
Previously, individuals with multiple felony convictions were at the top of the list during targeted raids, while an overstayed visa meant the individual would be a low priority for ICE officials.
The Immigrant Services Network of Austin confirmed this in a news bulletin they released the week of the raids, saying “those with DACA, deferred action, stays of removal, and pending U visas not on the list for targeting,” but warned that this “can always change based on … the discretion of the supervisor reviewing individual for removal.”
KXAN reported that 51 foreign nationals were arrested in Austin as a result of the raids, 23 of whom had previous criminal convictions.
During the raids, people turned to social media to make undocumented immigrants aware of their rights if they encountered any ICE officials. Lobb said many seemingly small mistakes can become critical and hinder their ability to stay in the country or to seek legal help.
“Giving a fake name is the absolute worst thing that you can do,” Lobb said. “Nine times out of 10, ICE figures out who you are. That one other time, you become lost in the system, and lying about who you are isn’t going to stop officials from kicking you out of the country.”
Now, Lobb says the majority of his work involves seeing if his clients are eligible for asylum, which is rare, or applying filing article 34 affidavits to transfer the care of children here in the U.S. for parents who are going to be deported.
Following the raids, the Austin American-Statesman obtained federal documents which showed the ICE operation in Austin arrested a “higher percentage of people with no previous criminal convictions compared with other regions of the country.”
“Everyone deserves the right to live safe and free from fear. We need strong local policies that separate police and immigration agent,” said Sofia Casini, Grassroots Leadership in Austin immigration program coordinator. “What we know is that many victims of crime and witnesses don’t feel safe to come forward. Policies like Sheriff Hernandez’s seek to improve the already fragile relationship between communities and the police. The governor’s reckless and dangerous demand not only undermines local autonomy, but public safety.”
Lobb said he wishes that the politicians and constituents in support of these raids would understand that undocumented immigrants aren’t people who should be feared.
“When people say that illegal immigrants present a threat to our society, the reality is the opposite,” Lobb said. “Undocumented immigrants are the most vulnerable community.”