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Immigrant Communities Alarmed By Recent Arrests And Deportations


Federal officials have announced the arrests of 680 people who are in the United States illegally. Now, it is unclear at this point whether this represents an actual escalation. Immigrant advocates accused President Obama of deporting far too many people. But as Arun Venugopal of member station WNYC discovered, the alarm in immigrant communities has sharply increased, as well as the misinformation.

ARUN VENUGOPAL, BYLINE: Right now it's really hard for people to separate truth from fiction. There are so many rumors of immigration raids and so many ways of spreading them. Here's just one example from the Indian-American community.

SUJEET RAJAN: Anyone going in and out of Sabzi Mandi and Patel Brother were asked to show proof of legal status.

VENUGOPAL: That's Sujeet Rajan, a journalist with News India Times, reading a message from Whatsapp, warning customers at Indian supermarkets in Edison, N.J. Rajan decided to reach out to the stores in Edison.

RAJAN: And employees there and a manager confirmed that none of this had happened. All this was absolutely false.

VENUGOPAL: I heard similar things in other communities. Mariana Martin is a Brooklyn-based musician, originally from Venezuela. She's here on an 0-1 visa.

MARIANA MARTIN: It's just this general way of panic.

VENUGOPAL: She said some Venezuelans were convinced that they could no longer travel to the U.S., that they were on a secret list of banned countries. Just to be clear - not true. Martin also forwarded an email that had been sent to a friend who works with other Latinos at a Mexican-owned business in Manhattan. The company told employees to avoid all travel...

MARTIN: Even domestic, which I feel like that was, like, extreme.

VENUGOPAL: The email also advised employees to scrub their social media accounts, to disable the fingerprint unlock on their phones, and if traveling to prepare for questions like, how do you feel about President Trump? And when answering, to, quote, "be creative in your positive responses." And this was before news that Immigration and Customs Enforcement - or ICE - had arrested 41 people across New York City. ICE says their last enforcement action in the city happened last August and resulted in 58 arrests. So the number of arrests here hasn't to our knowledge escalated, at least not yet, but the rumors certainly have. In part, because President Trump aggressively campaigned on deportations, but also because of social media. It's amplifying the rumors as well as the alarm. One rumor was that ICE was patrolling the number seven subway line, which travels through some of the city's most famous immigrant enclaves. False, according to immigrant rights advocates. Another rumor, one I received from many sources, was that 10 ICE officers were stationed at a busy intersection in Queens, quote, "waiting to detain people." Immigrants were cautioned to stay away from this location. So I went there and took a look.

I spoke to a number of people who work here, who are vendors or barbers and the like. And they said they'd seen nothing unusual today. It's just a normal day. For immigration attorneys like Michael Wildes, the actual news in tandem with the rumors have translated into an explosion of panicked phone calls.

MICHAEL WILDES: In the last 48 hours, even over a weekend, I've gotten more phone calls than I had ever done in the last months.

VENUGOPAL: Wiles is a former federal prosecutor and thinks it's inevitable that some undocumented immigrants will end up being deported, especially if they have criminal records. But Wildes worries that even immigrants without records will go underground, meaning not going to school, not going to hospitals and not reporting violence to the police. For NPR News, I'm Arun Venugopal in New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF KANYE WEST SONG, "FAMILY BUSINESS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Arun Venugopal