"We need to be prepared": The tough conversations immigrant families are having as deportation fears consume Houston communities
Arrest of undocumented immigrant. (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency)

Although an Immigration and Customs Enforcement operation targeting families with deportation orders has been postponed for two weeks, anxiety remains among the undocumented community of Houston.


On Friday afternoon, Kassandra saw the news on social media. Her immediate reaction was to call her father.

“I told him to be careful out there," she said.

They were talking about what has been called the “family op”, according to the Washington Post: an Immigration and Customs Enforcement plan to conduct a mass roundup of migrant families that have received deportation orders. Federal agents originally planned to target at least 10 cities, including Houston, where Kassandra lives.

“When dad arrived home from work, the four of us sat down, saw the news show and we made plans," said the 19-year-old undocumented immigrant, who asked that her full name not be used.

While her Mexican mom has a resident visa and her 12-year-old sister is a citizen, Kassandra and her Salvadoran dad are undocumented. And both of them are the bread earners in the household. Kassandra is a student and a cashier at a dollar store. Her father works in construction.

“Sitting there we started making the math, figuring out our savings, how we would pay the bills. We tried to have everything ready, to have the contact information of the immigration lawyer,” Kassandra says.

President Donald Trump on Saturday said he was halting the plan for two weeks to give Democratic and Republican lawmakers a chance to close what he called loopholes in the nations' border and asylum processes. But if that doesn't happen, he warned, the deportations will commence.

In Houston, a city of 1.6 million immigrants and around half a million undocumented people, the announcement was a double blow for people like Kassandra. Not only they were worried about the fact that Houston was named as one of the targets, but also because the announcement referred to "families," and not just individuals.

“After listening to that word, the next word that I thought of is separation,” Kassandra recalls.

The memory of last year's zero-tolerance policy along the border, which separated hundreds of migrant children from their parents, remains fresh among immigrant communities. And, although Trump said he was postponing this weekend's planned deportation operation, angst remains for many.

“People are afraid. I received so many text messages this weekend,” says Damaris González, a community organizer with United We Dream. “You walk around the streets and people are talking about this. Many of them don’t know their rights, what to do if immigration stops them, how to answer.”

On social media and at community events, immigrant advocates like her have been publicizing what to do if ICE shows up at someone's home or workplace.