Scared and Planning for the Worst: Immigrants Brace for Deportation

CNN/ Newswire | 3/20/2017, 9:10 a.m.
Ninety-seven people are at Catholic Charities this morning. It feels like a hospital waiting room.
Catholic Charities staff speak with immigrants waiting to talk to lawyers.

By Masuma Ahuja

CNN Photography by Mark Kauzlarich for CNN

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Ninety-seven people are at Catholic Charities this morning. It feels like a hospital waiting room.

The sense of anticipation is palpable: Every time a charity worker comes to the front of the room with a clipboard, everyone looks up, waiting for their names to be called. For their questions to be answered.

What happens if ICE is knocking at your door?

What kind of ID should I have?

What about my children if I get deported?

Are there forms we can fill out to sign off guardianship of our children?

In past weeks, as news of ICE raids and deportations has spread, lawyers and charities have begun telling immigrants, both documented and undocumented, how to prepare.

How to make space for fear in their lives so they are not consumed by it.

In Lower Manhattan, people begin queuing at the crack of dawn every Thursday in a Financial District high-rise to get help with their fears.

Thirteen floors up, Catholic Charities hosts what it calls "immigration intake sessions" where people can get advice on how to apply for asylum or a green card, what to do if ICE officers knock on their doors or what rights they have as undocumented immigrants.

Don't be afraid, these lawyers advise, but be ready.

"It's important not to be so scared that you're afraid to leave your house, send your kids to school, or go to the hospital if you need to," says Raluca Oncioiu, director of immigration legal services at Catholic Charities. But if someone knocks on your door, the first question is: Do you have a search warrant?

The rumors aren't true, the lawyers reassure: There are no ICE agents waiting on subway platforms. But also, always wear a seat belt, don't speed, don't drive with a broken taillight.

And don't be afraid to go to the police if you're a victim of a crime. It won't just protect you from the crime, but it'll help safeguard anyone else who could be a victim of the same crime, the lawyers explain.

Maribelle is an undocumented immigrant, a DREAMer, from Mexico. She came to Catholic Charities because her youngest child, who's 9, receives speech therapy in school, and Maribelle wants to find out about getting him more services despite her immigration status. Like the other people we spoke to here, she was comfortable giving only her first name.

Maribelle is also worried about getting deported. She came to the United States in 1989 when she was 5. She hasn't been to Mexico since, and she doesn't even speak Spanish.

"My two youngest kids -- well, the middle one, she's 12, she's really scared. Really scared," Maribelle says.

"I told my daughter to have faith, that we're together and whatever happens, we'll be together."

Maribelle says she prays. There are millions of people like her here, so she hopes she won't be deported. She also hopes that in three years, when her oldest son turns 21, he will be able to help her obtain legal status.