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Q&A: How threat of deporting 'millions' of undocumented immigrants will impact families in Houston

HOUSTON – President Donald Trump has threatened to remove millions of people living in the United States illegally on the eve of formally announcing his reelection bid.

The United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement next week will "begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States," Trump said in a pair of tweets Monday night.

"They will be removed as fast as they come in," he wrote.

Member of Houston’s undocumented community said Trump’s tweet Monday, warning ICE would start removing millions of “illegal aliens” next week found in the U.S., worries them.

FIEL, an immigration rights organization, is working to counter that fear with knowledge. 

How many undocumented people live in the Houston area? 

“A half million undocumented immigrants live in metro Houston, most in Harris County, and they and their families are now gonna be in a heightened state of worry over the next few weeks to see if ICE is actually going to come out,” said Mark Jones, a political professor at Rice University. 

Who is ICE seeking? 

The political expert said more than one million out of the 11 million people being targeted for deportation could be caught in a sweep, especially if they’re in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

“If the person doesn’t have identification, they’ll get swept up and if they’re in the system, most likely they’re in route to Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador or Mexico,” he said. 

What rights do undocumented immigrants have? 

Cesar Espinosa with FIEL said his office has received numerous calls from undocumented people fearing deportation following Trump’s tweet. 

“Instead of us just turning our community into panic, we’re gonna use this as a learning opportunity for our community to know that they have rights,” he said. 

Espinosa said he’s telling people without documentation to do three things should they be detained or receive a knock on the door from ICE: 

  • Do not open the door unless immigration officials have a search warrant
  • They can exercise their Fifth Amendment right by remaining silent to a police or immigration officer
  • Do not sign any agreement without a lawyer present 
  • Could immigration raids have an impact on the local economy? 

    Jones said if undocumented people are fearful of leaving their homes, they will be less likely to show up for work. If those people do not show up for work, there is going to be a domino effect. 

    “All it would take is a couple of raids here in Houston and those people will essentially go to ground,” he said. “And that will have a negative impact, not only on them and their families but anybody who depends on them for services." 

    He said those services could include child care, landscaping, construction and the restaurant industry.