While leading the charge against the new administration's immigration policies, the Bay Area's immigrant advocates are finding themselves in a difficult position as they attempt to dispel a growing sense of panic among undocumented residents that mass deportations are imminent.
This week, sources say those fears went into overdrive as rumors began quickly spreading across the Bay Area of federal agents conducting immigration raids. The reports, spread mainly on social media, warned of checkpoints and random roundups by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents in Richmond, Oakland, Contra Costa County and San Carlos, as well as the Midpeninsula.
But those reports of sweeping roundups were false, said Ilyce Shugall, an attorney with the Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto. While much uncertainly hangs over undocumented residents, there have been no verified reports of ICE engaging in mass roundups so far, she said.
"There's so much panic in the community right now, and then these rumors start spreading because people are freaked out," she said. "It's a real challenge to be informative because we're in unprecedented territory this is a situation where we don't know what's going to happen."
Contacted by the Voice, ICE officials insisted they do not conduct mass immigrant roundups in Northern California. Any recent operations have targeted specific individuals who have been convicted of crimes such as drug trafficking, sex offenses or violent acts, said James Schwab, ICE spokesman for the Bay Area.
"We do not conduct indiscriminate raids or sweeps for undocumented residents," he said. "I get it -- ICE operations are not popular -- but putting out false information about raids is putting people in danger."
Schwab said his phone has been ringing nonstop with calls about new rumors. For some reason, the rumor mill reached a "boiling point" on Wednesday, with numerous stories of raids spreading around the same time, he said.
Most link the hysteria to President Donald Trump, who campaigned on the promise of deporting illegal immigrants. Since taking office, he said he would move to immediately remove up to 3 million immigrants who have criminal records.
ICE officials say there has been no increase in arrests or operations in Northern California since the new administration took office. Last week, the Department of Homeland Security announced more than 680 immigrants had been detained across the country in operations in Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, San Antonio and New York City.
For now, at least, the number of deportations could be actually be smaller than it was under the Obama administration. During fiscal year 2016, an average of about 1,250 individuals were removed from the country each week, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.
But immigrant advocates are bracing for the possibility that ICE enforcement will ramp up. The situation has been changing practically on a daily basis, Shugall said.
"We're trying to find that right balance between finding good quality information and trying to limit the panic," she said.
The American Immigration Lawyers Association has set up a website for people to report confirmed raids and enforcement actions.