A boy waves a flag at a Chicago march against Trump’s immigration crackdown in February. Credit: AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

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Since President Trump issued two new executive orders on immigration in January, reports of raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and unexpected deportations of undocumented immigrants have multiplied around the country. A climate of fear has developed in immigrant communities, exacerbated by scams and misinformation.

So with stricter immigration enforcement policies in action, what should locals know about the process?

Entering the country illegally—without going through an immigration checkpoint—or overstaying a visa isn’t a criminal offense but rather a civil violation of federal law. A growing percentage of the “undocumented” population in the U.S. are people who overstayed their visas rather than people who made unauthorized border crossings. Of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. today, about 500,000 reside in Illinois, mostly in the Chicagoland area.

Deportation back to one’s home country is a legal process and, for most people, can take months or years. Deportations are handled by the Department of Homeland Security, which means you can be detained by agents from Customs and Border Protection or Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Because Illinois is more than 100 miles from either border, locals are most likely to encounter immigration authorities from ICE rather than CBP.

Being detained by immigration agents doesn’t mean you’ll be deported immediately. If you don’t already have a final deportation order issued by a judge (more on that later), you’re most likely entitled to a hearing and will have an opportunity to fight your case. People with certain serious felony convictions may be deported by ICE through an “expedited removal” process without a hearing. Trump’s new executive order has also opened the door for possible expedited removals of those who can’t demonstrate that they have been in the country for more than two years.

Since the first few hours and days after being arrested can be uncertain, immigration lawyers advise that people without legal status have an action plan in place with family and community networks.

Upon arresting someone, ICE agents will immediately take away cell phones, explains immigration attorney Mony Ruiz Velasco of the West Suburban Action Project, a group that provides legal aid to undocumented immigrants. But agents will allow people to make a phone call once they arrive at one of ICE’s two processing centers: 101 W. Congress or, as of two weeks ago, the Kankakee County Detention Center. Processing could take several hours or go overnight. Often, ICE can hold someone up to 48 hours while determining whether he or she is subject to deportation. Once someone over 18 is processed, his or her name will be searchable in ICE’s database, along with information about where the detainee is being held.

After processing, adults arrested in Illinois are then taken from the processing centers to one of seven county jails in the region that hold immigration detainees for ICE: to the Kankakee, McHenry, or Pulaski county jails in Illinois, the Kenosha or Dodge county jails in Wisconsin, the Clay County Jail in Indiana, or Boone County Jail in Kentucky. In all of these facilities, immigration detainees are held in separate parts of the jail from local arrestees charged with crimes. In 2012 the Pulaski county jail (also known as the Tri-County Detention Center) was named one of the ten worst immigration detention facilities in the country by the Detention Watch Network. Currently, the jails ICE uses in Illinois only have space for about 1,400 ICE detainees, but with Trump’s promises to ramp up immigration enforcement, ICE could soon be building or contracting with new facilities in the region.

It’s worth noting that unaccompanied minors aren’t sent to county jails if detained by ICE. Currently about 500 children who arrived in the U.S. alone are being held in Illinois shelters and group homes run by agencies like Heartland Alliance and overseen by the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement. Undocumented children whose parents are held by ICE may be released to stay with relatives while their deportation cases are pending.

There is a bail system in place for immigration detainees, but bail amounts—which can range from $2,500 to $25,000—must be paid in full for a person to be released. Bonds are set at processing and can be redetermined at an initial court hearing, but it could take more than a month between the day a person is detained and the first in a series of deportation hearings, held in immigration court at 525 W. Van Buren.

There are just nine federal judges handling the more than 10,000 deportation cases filed in Chicago from Illinois, and also from Wisconsin, Indiana, and Kentucky. The deportation cases against persons not held in ICE detention proceed much slower than if a person remains in ICE custody. If a person isn’t in ICE custody, it can take years between the first hearing and a second or third appearance.

Everyone facing deportation proceedings is entitled to a lawyer, but the government won’t pay for one. Some nonprofits, such as the West Suburban Action Project and the National Immigrant Justice Center, provide free or low-cost legal aid.

The odds of winning a deportation case are slim. But they become impossible if one waives one’s right to a hearing in front of a judge. West Suburban Action Project’s Ruiz Velasco says that ICE agents frequently try to get people to sign hearing waivers without explaining what they are, or by promising that a person can fight their deportation from their home country. But once signed, ICE takes the waivers to immigration judges who then issue deportation orders. Often, people aren’t even aware that they’ve signed away their right to fight their case or that they’ve been ordered to leave, Ruiz Velasco says.

Every year, immigration courts around the country issue tens, or even hundreds of thousands of “final removal” or deportation orders. People with standing deportation orders may have lost their deportation cases or appeals, but they may also have no idea they’ve been ordered to leave—these are people who may have failed to appear in court when their cases were decided or who unknowingly signed away their rights to a hearing. Information about immigration cases and whether someone has a standing deportation order can be obtained over the phone from the Executive Office for Immigration Review.

A small portion of people with removal orders—10 to 20 percent—are allowed to depart voluntarily, and are usually given about a month to settle their affairs and arrange for travel back to their home countries. Otherwise, enforcement of the court’s deportation orders is overseen by ICE, whose resources are limited. Once ICE begins to execute a deportation, people regardless of their country of origin are taken to one of ICE’s regional centers, and from there, once authorities establish that their home countries will accept the deportees, they’re bussed across the border or flown back on chartered flights. The execution of a deportation can take months.

Under the Obama administration, more than 90 percent of people deported from the country’s interior (more than 100 miles from the border), were people previously convicted of a crime. In 2014 ICE was directed to prioritize undocumented immigrants engaged in or suspected of espionage or terrorism, convicted gang members, people apprehended unlawfully crossing the border, or people convicted of violent or drug-related felonies and misdemeanors.

Trump’s new executive order, however, significantly expands the deportation priority pool from people convicted of violent offenses to people convicted of any crime, no matter how minor; people who are simply charged with any crime; and even people who haven’t been charged but “have committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense” or are “considered a public safety or national security risk by an immigration officer.”

Immigration experts say these orders are vague and leave too much to the discretion of ICE officers.

“This language is very problematic,” says Ruiz Velasco. “Who gets to determine what’s a chargeable criminal offense? What is a chargeable criminal offense? Immigration agents aren’t in a position to also be prosecutors or judges.”

These orders have resulted in an increase in reported ICE activity around the country and in Chicago. Last month the agency reported some 700 arrests across the country, with more than 200 in the midwest and nearly 50 in Chicago alone.

“The raids that we’re seeing now are more targeted raids—they’re home raids,” Ruiz Velasco explains. “They do what they call collateral arrests: They ask everyone for their papers that’s in the home.”

This is why, she says, it’s more important than ever for people to know their rights and to not allow immigration agents into their homes unless they can show a signed and dated warrant from a judge that correctly identifies the address and the name of the person ICE is seeking. In nearly 20 years of practice as an immigration attorney, Ruiz Velasco says she’s only encountered a few cases in which ICE agents had warrants for properties they raided.

Usually, she says, ICE agents arrive in unmarked cars and wear Kevlar vests with “police” written on the front. Their identification as ICE agents may appear in small letters on the back of their uniforms. They also don’t typically tell people they’re immigration agents, Ruiz Velasco says, so people open the door assuming it’s the cops. There are no equivalent to Miranda rights for immigration arrests, yet agents can use anything people tell them against them in court.

Most undocumented immigrants who fall into ICE custody, however, are apprehended through local criminal justice systems. Though the Cook County sheriff’s office, which operates the county jail, doesn’t actively cooperate with ICE, agents are present and can cross-check detainees’ names with their own records and interview people at the jail. CPD, for its part, may cooperate with ICE despite Chicago’s Welcoming City Ordinance.

Even while in law enforcement custody however, people are not obligated to talk to ICE agents or give them any information about their immigration status. Ruiz Velasco says that even while in jail, immigrants should make sure they know who they’re talking to and not to reveal any information beyond their name and date of birth.

Attorneys are now watching for new orders that might give immigration officers in the interior of the country authority to perform expedited removals—which happen without court hearings and wholly at DHS’s discretion—of people deemed “recently arrived” because they’ve been in the country for less than two years.

Despite the new realities of Trump’s immigration enforcement, Ruiz Velasco says communities can still find the means to defend themselves by learning about their rights, finding legal counsel, and developing emergency action plans with their loved ones.

“We don’t want people to be scared,” she says. “We want people to have local systems of protection.”