How Immigrant Rights Groups Reacted To Trump's Threat To Start Mass Deportations

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In a tweet sent Monday night, President Donald Trump announced that Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would significantly ramp up its deportation efforts, starting as early as next week. While The Washington Post reports that the president's tweet caught many federal officials off-guard, immigrant rights groups tell Bustle that Trump's mass deportation announcement was par for the course with this administration, and that they're not in panic mode quite yet.

Zenén Jaimes Pérez, advocacy and communications director of the Texas Civil Rights Project, says that Trump's remark, while serious, "definitely wasn't surprising." He surmised that such a threat may actually have been intended to bolster Trump's reelection bid, by showing voters that he remains hard on immigration.

"Next week ICE will begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States," Trump tweeted Monday evening. He added, "They will be removed as fast as they come in."

Although foreboding, Pérez says they're urging their staff and clients to stay calm. "This isn't the first and only time that president has made any sort of outlandish claims to try to inflame this particular base of supporters," he says.

The Texas Civil Rights Project, Pérez explains, works in part with immigrants who are caught up in federal criminal court cases as a result of the Trump administration's zero-tolerance immigration policy. Although the policy, which was announced by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions last spring, was partially peeled back, Pérez says that the belief that it is no longer active is a common misconception.

The Project continues to monitor courts for family separation cases, he says, and would continue to do so if ICE did ramp up its apprehension and deportation rates. The Project would continue to provide legal aid to impacted immigrant families if Trump's announcement about increased deportations were to materialize. But Pérez says his team is not in panic mode just yet.

"We definitely have systems to make sure that ... folks who are victims of this have access to legal counsel, that they can connect to people, including other advocates and immigration attorneys to assist with their cases," Pérez says. He adds that includes "plans to ensure that there is a familial continuity and the children are taken care of" in the case of family separations.

"It's hard to know if he's serious, or if, you know, it's him waking up on a bad day and deciding that he wants to go after immigrants."

Erika Andiola, the chief advocacy officer at RAICES, which bills itself as the "largest immigration legal services provider in Texas" on its website, agrees. Like Pérez, Andiola says that while their organization is taking Trump's latest ICE tweet seriously, it's also part and parcel to how the administration has always treated immigration.

While RAICES works on developing an emergency plan, which would likely include redirecting their preexisting resources, Andiola says the first step is to make sure that immigrant populations have accurate information and know their rights. (Simply knowing whether or not you have allow an ICE agent into your house, she says, can be key to protecting immigrant populations from future problems.) In the meantime, she says, RAICES is working to parse how serious President Trump is about increasing deportation proceedings.

"It's hard to know if he's serious, or if, you know, it's him waking up on a bad day and deciding that he wants to go after immigrants," Andiola says. "So, we're not making any concrete decisions right now."

It's also worth noting that Trump's assertion that "millions" of immigrants will soon be removed from the country is likely hyperbolic, according to Politico. The publication pointed to reports that ICE's resources are currently strained.

That being said, the Trump administration has made clear that it's willing to enact extreme and harsh immigration measures, and there's no reason to believe that has changed in the last year. And for those who want to continue advocating for immigrant rights, Pérez tells Bustle the key is to continue making noise.

"We've been able to unify families and just push back to administration because of the overwhelming amount of pressure and public support that has come towards the movement," Pérez says. "I've been working on this for many years — and it gets harder every year. But it's easier when people are activated and know their rights."