SALT LAKE CITY — Recent threats from President Donald Trump and national news reports warning that Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents will begin immigration raids on Sunday in 10 cities have spurred anxiety among Utah's immigrant community.
"We are hearing from a lot of people wondering what's going on, what to do," said Jean Hill, spokeswoman for the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City.
"I can't describe it anymore than there's just a whole lot of fear and people are struggling to figure out what they can do to protect themselves and their families and everything they've built in this country."
She fears it's possible that thousands of people in Utah "will be torn apart by this."
"I think it feels bigger than usual. Because in the past, it's been a business, and there's been some reason," Hill said.
The anxiety began earlier this week, when Trump tweeted: "Next week ICE will begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States. They will be removed as fast as they come in."
During the so-called "family op," up to 2,000 families could be targeted in 10 major cities, the Washington Post reported Friday. The operation is expected to unfold over several days. The likely targets will be people who have already been ordered to leave the country, according to CNN.
Other Utah immigrant advocates have also been getting "bombarded" with concerns.
"It has been getting people so stressed out and worried," said Deyvid Morales, the Utah app developer of Derechos de Inmigrantes y Ayuda (Immigrant Rights and Help), which is sponsored by the Mexican Consulate and the Institute for Mexicans Abroad.
"My phone has been ringing all day long," said Morales, who was once under threat of deportation and started helping others in similar situations.
"People are scared," Morales said, despite similar previous threats that never came to pass. "A lot of people are posting pictures of like a border patrol car or immigration buses or things like that, and so I feel like it has affected many of us in many different ways."
He added, "People are definitely freaking out. They think that anybody who is in the country unauthorized is going to be deported. People have called me and asked if it there are going to be like SWAT raids."
Children suffer the most from fears of deportation, Morales said. His nephews, who were born in Utah, have asked, "Hey, what's gonna happen to my mom?"
"I (told them), 'Hey, nothing's gonna happen to your mom. Your mommy's OK. It's different people," Morales said, becoming emotional.
"It is crazy to think that kids are being damaged not knowing what's going to happen to their parents. And their parents don't fall into these categories, but at the same time, (the kids) don't realize that."
Hill agreed that the children seem to be the most affected.
"In the past when we've had these sort of situations, we've had to talk to parents about getting a plan in place, who's gonna take care of your kids, who's got the power of attorney to send them to school. Those kinds of conversations are not conversations you want to have as a parent with your child," she said. "They just don't understand. 'Why is Mom and Dad being sent somewhere I've never been and don't know anything about?'"
She thinks the raids could come up as a topic in Sunday's Mass.
"We have a number of parishes that are going to be heavily impacted if this happens. And those pastors are very much aware of the situations of a lot of their people. And it wouldn't surprise me if they were to talk about this."
Salt Lake immigration attorney Skyler Anderson said he has been sharing information about the threat on social media. His posts have received "a lot of response," he said.
"It's definitely something that catches a lot of attention anytime there's news about specific efforts to go after a large group of people. And the impact on the communities themselves is far greater than I think most people understand or appreciate," Anderson said.
The United States doesn't have the resources to deport that many people in a short period of time, he said, and the idea of a mass-deportation "causes more harm than good, when we're splitting up families and doing the types of things that we see with our immigration laws on a daily basis."
During large operations, immigration officials typically have a list of people they're targeting. They'll visit their targets' homes, workplaces and neighbors to find them, according to the Associated Press.
Those arrested by immigration officials during a raid face little recourse.
"Every case is very specific. If somebody has a prior removal order, ICE likes to go after those ones because they can often sidestep the court and just execute the removal order immediately," Anderson said.
"They do have opportunities in some cases, if they have fear for their life if they return to their native country, that they can look to either filing a motion to reopen their prior removal proceedings … or in some cases, request a credible fear interview with an asylum officer," he said.
Anderson has also sought to inform immigrants about their legal options when facing deportation.
"So there are always options in my view, in virtually every circumstance. It's just a matter of informing people of those options and making sure they don't waive away those rights that they have in the United States when they're put on the spot in front of ICE and have to make a difficult decision," Anderson said.
Hill said community nonprofits are already working together to provide families information should a raid occur in Utah.
"I think there will be discussions about what can we do, how can we handle this, and those are things our pastors have been dealing with for many, many years anyway, but not in this sort of concentrated effort to frighten people," she said.
An ICE spokesman declined Friday to provide any information about the impending raids to the Deseret News.
"As always, ICE prioritizes the arrest and removal of unlawfully present aliens who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security," the investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security said in a prepared statement.
"In fact, 90 percent of aliens arrested by ICE’s enforcement and removal operations component in (2018) had either a criminal conviction, pending criminal charges, were an ICE fugitive, or illegally reentered the country after previously being removed."
Correction: A previous version incorrectly stated Deyvid Morales was once deported. He was actually once under threat of deportation.