What's Next: Immigrant Families In South Florida Wrestle With Open-Ended Immigration Raids

Originally published on July 15, 2019 10:31 am

Fears of widespread immigration raids in South Florida appeared to dissipate without major actions on Sunday - but left migrant communities and advocates with renewed reason to come up with different strategies to deal with deportation of themselves or close family members.

In West Kendall, longtime immigrant rights advocate Nora Sandigo was praying she wouldn’t get a call on Sunday from any of her more than 1,500 children.

“Today we haven’t seen anything major,” she said in Spanish. “We hope it stays like this for the next few days.”

Sandigo is a guardian for more than 1,500 American-born kids. Their undocumented parents sign power of attorney documents, which allow Sandigo to help kids whose parents are detained by immigration authorities.

Read more: Mom To The Multitudes: This Immigrant Advocate Is The Guardian Of 1,250 Kids

“In this climate of fear, it’s the kids who most affected,” she said. “They suffer from emotional and psychological bouts – from the fear that it could be the last day they see their parents.”

Sandigo, who runs a national nonprofit, the Nora Sandigo Children Foundation, has enlisted a team of expert volunteers to care for her kids: a physician, two psychologists and an immigration lawyer. She says more families have called her over the last few weeks as news of immigration raids continue to be the norm.

Sandigo adds the Trump administration’s crackdown on immigration is aimed at intimidating immigrants into giving up and returning to their home countries.

“It won’t work,” she said. “People have been living here for so many years. They pay taxes. They have made roots here.”

in Lake Worth, Maria, a 47-year-old woman from Veracruz, Mexico who asked to be identified by only her first name because her family members are not all legally in the country, said her first husband was deported after immigration enforcement officers picked him up more than a decade ago.

Yo sentía que se me cerraba el mundo y decía ‘¿Que le voy a dar de comer a mis hijos? ¿Como voy a pagar la renta? ¿Como voy a salir adelante?’ A veces lloraba – noche, dia,” she said. "I felt the world was closing on me. I would ask myself ‘How am I going to feed my kids? How am I going to pay rent? How will I get ahead?’ There were times when I would cry – night and day."

Maria stayed at home with her children before her husband was deported. After he left she worked several jobs at a time – cleaning houses, selling scrap metal. She’s coming up to her 26th year in the U.S. “El chiste es de sacar adelante a mis hijos [What matters is to get my children ahead],” she said.

Gaby is an undocumented immigrant in Broward County and has been living in the U.S. for the past 18 years. She withheld her last name out of concern for her safety. She usually tries to stay positive about her status, she said, because she abides by all laws and there is “no reason for anybody to come after” me.

“But recently, I don’t feel that way anymore. Even going to the doctor -- stuff like that -- it makes me a little nervous because you never know,” she said. “Nobody is safe.”

She said she spent much of Sunday outside of her house because she feels going places could make it harder for immigration authorities to find her. She fears being detained and separated from her 18-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son.

“Having children -- you know that you are their support and they need you. Families definitely need to be together,” she said. “If anything were to happen, what would happen to them? Who would take care of them?”

Gaby said she won’t feel safe until President Donald Trump leaves office and federal lawmakers reach an immigration deal that lets her stay in the U.S.

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