Weekend Rumors Cause Fear, Action Among Kansas City Immigrant Communities

Feb 14, 2017

Immigrant rights advocates meet to brainstorm ways to be involved in growing fear around the president's immigration order.
Credit Laura Ziegler / KCUR 89.3

There were rumors on social media over the weekend that authorities would be waiting outside local churches in Kansas City to arrest undocumented worshippers.

In the wake of President Donald Trump’s Executive Order on immigration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, had already arrested hundreds who had allegedly violated immigration laws. 235 were arrested in six Midwestern states, including Kansas and Missouri.

The rumors of raids at local churches turned out not to be true. But an already heightened level of fear in immigrant and refugee communities rose considerably.

Business is down

In the flurry of emergency conversations over the weekend between attorneys, advocates and panic stricken immigrants and refugees, a rumor got out that there were some arrests on Friday at a local grocery store in the historic Northeast neighborhood of Kansas City, home to many immigrants and refugees.

The owner didn't want KCUR to use his name or that of his store.

He said Friday morning, a police car stopped a truck in front of the store.  He said ten or twelve police cars quickly arrived as back up, sirens and lights blazing.

It turns out there were no arrests of undocumented people. He was told it was a "routine traffic stop."

The owner immediately started hearing from his customers.

“I started getting calls right away,” he says. “They want to know (if it was) a raid by (immigration authorities).”

Business is usually good over the weekend, he says.   This weekend it was slow. People weren't coming out to shop.

“That just gives you an idea how insecure and afraid people are about what is going on,” the shop owner told me.

Lawyers are feeling stress, too

Immigration lawyer Christopher McKinney says he’s getting calls from clients who’ve had lawful permanent resident status for a long time. He's hearing from those on work and student visas.

They’re asking him what they should do.

“My practice now is about letting people know what their risk is,” he says, “and dispelling fears. There are a lot of rumors going around now, which is causing a lot of anxiety.”

Organizing action in case of arrest

About 50 people gathered at Donnelly College Monday night to come up with strategies about how to address this anxiety. Sponsored by MORE2, they broke into small groups. With flip charts and markers, they brainstormed action plans for how to help prepare the undocumented in the case of arrest, and how to create sanctuary, or safe spaces, with local agencies and churches. They talked about getting clarity from local law enforcement about its relationship to federal immigration authorities.

One undocumented young man at the meeting said he and his wife have a 19 year old daughter. A so-called "Dreamer."

She’s been here since she was 4. She’s studying to be a nurse.

“Our greatest fear is what’s going to happen to her,” he said.

Lora McDonald, director of MORE2, said one of the most difficult things about the president’s action is the uncertainty it creates for the future.

“It’s hard to prepare for something we don’t want to have happen,” she said. “We live in the Midwest, we prepare for tornadoes we hope never happen. We’re preparing drills (for the threat of deportation), that’s what’s happening now.”

Laura Ziegler is a community engagement reporter and producer. You can reach her on Twitter @laurazig or by email at lauraz@kcur.org.