ICE Storm: Immigration officers target Latino families; worry Shelby County Schools

The flurry of arrests made by Immigration and Customs Enforcement over the past week drew the attention of Shelby County Schools, which worries that undocumented parents will not enroll their children in the next school year out of fear of deportation. 

On July 28, Latino Memphis brought together local leaders within the Latino community to decry the actions over the last week of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Memphis, a federal agency which Latino Memphis executive director Mauricio Calvo says is detaining people without warrants.

In a press conference held at Prescott Place Apartments, a target for the recent ICE surge, Calvo said that ICE officers have arrested Latino members based on racial profiling and not for criminal behaviors as the agents have claimed.

Of the 12 families Latino Memphis is currently legally representing, Calvo said 11 were detained without warrants. In the last week, ICE executed at least three raids on multifamily properties with dense Latino populations and arrested at least a dozen people on immigration charges.  

“Our city is not safer” as a result of these detentions, said Calvo.

Over 100 people gathered at Martyr's Park and marched down Riverside Drive to Beale Street in order to create visibility around the impact the Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids have had on the Latin American immigrant population in Memphis.

The ICE storm drew the attention of Brian Stockton, chief of staff for Shelby County Schools. He expressed concern that Latino parents will not register their children for the 2017 to 2018 school year out of fear that their family will be targeted for deportation.

“Shelby County Schools’ mission is to serve all families, regardless of immigrations status,” Stockton said. He went on to ask families to register their children and assured immigrant families that no citizenship documentation is required to enroll a student.

At the press conference, two stories were told of families who have been separated because of ICE arrests in the last week.

One story involves a family who lives at the Prescott Place Apartments. Calvo said a member of the family called Calvo in the middle of the night as ICE banged on the door.

No one in the house had warrants out for their arrest, according to Calvo. The advice he gave to that family was the same advice the organization has been spreading throughout the Latino community over the last week: If they do not have a warrant, do not open the door.

The ICE agents left without entering the home or making any arrests.

"Immigrants have rights just like everybody else has rights,” Latino Memphis legal director Casey Bryant said.

“We have a criminal justice system that deals with the criminality and criminal behavior of anybody in the United States and that system also works for immigrant people,” Bryant said.

“But, the problem is that when immigration says they are going to come after people who are criminals, they don't necessarily know who is a criminal and who is not. We believe that everyone should be treated with the dignity and respect that humans deserve and we at Latino Memphis are trying to do that."

Alex Matlock of the Mid-South Latino Chamber of Commerce said these “unfair raids” are negatively affecting the local economy and he called for comprehensive immigration reform.

The spending powers of the Latino community plays an extremely important role in the local and national economy,” Matlock said.

Mauricio Calvo, executive director of Latino Memphis, addresses the community after a week of ICE raids.

“Latinos are the backbone of labor in the Mid-South,” Stockton later added.

Calvo also read a letter from Congressman Steve Cohen to the acting director of ICE, Thomas Homan, which asks for the details surrounding arrests in the Mid-South.

"As you know, ICE has limited resources, and it is vitally important that it prioritize the use of these resources in a manner designed to keep our communities safe," Cohen wrote in the letter.

In the letter, Cohen requested information about how
ICE determined whom it would target in the raids and how many of the arrested individuals are suspected of committing a criminal offense rather than an offense related to illegal entry. 

During the press conference, Calvo thanked the Memphis Police Department for not collaborating with ICE by aiding with arrests, which MPD Director Rallings and Mayor Jim Strickland promised they would not do.

In some occasions, the MPD and Shelby County Sheriffs department have been called to the scene but have not assisted in ICE arrests.

“I’m not here defending MPD, but I am stating the facts,” Calvo said.

Over 100 people gathered at Martyr's Park and marched down Riverside Drive to Beale Street in order to create visibility around the impact the Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids have had on the Latin American immigrant population in Memphis.

Latino Memphis has responded to the recent surge by knocking on doors around town to teach the community their rights in case of ICE contact.

Protests took place July 28 to bring awareness to "unlawful" ICE detentions throughout the city.

“No one wants immigration reform more than immigrants,” said Calvo and clarified that he is not against ICE, merely illegal detention and racial profiling.

Thomas Byrd, an ICE spokesman, issued the following statement about the recent surge in ICE activity:

“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is currently conducting a surge operation focused on the identification and arrest of family units, adults who entered the U.S. as unaccompanied alien children (UAC), and UACs who are at least 16 years old and have criminal histories and/or suspected gang ties.

All of the targeted individuals have been issued a final order of removal by a federal immigration judge, and have no appeals or motions to re-open their case before the nation’s immigration courts.”

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Read more articles by J. Dylan Sandifer.

J. Dylan Sandifer is a freelance writer living in Memphis since 2008. They have also contributed writing and research for MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, VICE News, and Choose901.