The same dream keeps haunting Elena, causing her to scream in the middle of the night and wake up her husband. For the past week, the Miami housekeeper and nanny can’t stop imagining the moment she might be picked by ICE officers and sent back to her native Nicaragua.
It’s a nightmare scenario, the 41-year-old says, but it’s also her reality. She has a long-standing deportation order, and her husband is undocumented.
Elena, who spoke to BuzzFeed News on the condition that she not be identified by her full name because she fears attracting more attention from the government, has watched the news incessantly this past week. She’s seen the headlines about the coming “mass” raids, targeting families with final deportation orders in communities like hers.
Her 14-year-old daughter, who is a US citizen by birth, told her this week that she doesn’t want to leave their Miami home for Nicaragua, a country the girl has never stepped foot in.
“I can’t stop thinking — I feel like a crazy person,” Elena said through tears during a telephone interview with BuzzFeed News. “I’m so freaking mad. I didn’t do anything. I’ve never felt this way, this fear that I feel right now.”
She and her family, like many other immigrant families across the country, have prepared for the sweep: They’ve stopped leaving their home, turned off the lights in their living room, closed their curtains. Elena and her husband said they do not plan to open their doors. Their neighbors are on the lookout, too, trying to be of help.
At one point, her family considered leaving their home to stay at a relative’s house for the next week.
“It feels like a hurricane is coming,” Elena said.
Elena’s case illustrates the anxiety that has gripped immigrant communities in the run-up to the planned Immigration and Customs Enforcement operation, which was designed to target several thousand undocumented people. Advocates have reported that their hotlines have been swamped with calls seeking guidance, while volunteers have offered to house those scared of staying home as rumored sightings of ICE personnel spread on social media.
“A lot of people are just trying to figure out what’s rumor and what’s real. I think that’s the most important thing. We’ve gone through this situation before,” said Ariana Martinez Lott, coordinator of the Faith in the Valley Watch Network in Northern California, referencing previous ICE operations in the area. “People are really afraid. It’s a really difficult scenario.”
While President Donald Trump had tried to suggest that millions of people would be swept up in the raids, adding fuel to the fears, the raid will be much smaller, unlikely to lead to even thousands of arrests.
Before Trump suddenly canceled the previous operation last month via Twitter, ICE officials held a call with reporters in which they appeared focused on a group of around 2,000 people who were part of expedited proceedings at immigration courts reserved for families who have recently arrived. (Across the country, 10 immigration courts in cities like San Francisco, Miami, Houston, Baltimore, and Los Angeles have quick proceedings for immigrant families.)
Those 2,000 people, they said, had been ordered removed “in absentia” — i.e., without appearing in court — and been notified to present themselves at ICE offices to facilitate deportations. They argued that the group had been given an adequate level of due process and a chance to make their cases in court.
In an interview with the Associated Press on Saturday, acting ICE director Matt Albence said that the enforcement action was nothing new for the agency. He noted that previous operations focusing on families resulted in a 10% or lower success rate in arresting their targets.
He also warned that families could be separated if hotel chains, like Marriott, continue to ban ICE from using them for temporary holds. "If hotels or other places do not want to allow us to utilize that, it's almost forcing us into a situation where we're going to have to take one of the parents and put them in custody and separate them from the rest of their families," he said.
For advocates in the communities set to be targeted, this moment feels like one that’s been building for more than two years.
Since the election of Trump, immigrant advocates across the country have held an increasing number of training sessions on how to deal with ICE, including explaining that, without a judicial warrant, officers can’t enter homes. Volunteers have been trained to show up at scenes of reported ICE arrests to film and provide assistance to families.
“Our hope is to create a culture of resistance against all these anti-immigrant policies at the federal and local level,” said Adelina Nicholls, head of Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights. “Everybody is in fear. They don’t know what to expect. They need to take their children to school; they need to go to do their jobs and have a regular life.”
On Saturday, Elena decided to stay home from work as a precaution. Instead, she kept busy at home, cleaning her house and rearranging furniture. During breaks, she drank tea and tried not to think about what could be ahead.
“For now, things seem normal, but you never know,” she said. “Any minute, something could happen.”