Three weeks after ICE raids, Austin immigrant community still panicked

March 1, 2017
The Austin American Statesmen

When news of the ICE raids spread throughout Austin, area nonprofits organized, mobilized and improvised as fear ran through the city’s immigrant community.

Carmen Zuvieta, a volunteer with the Austin-based nonprofit Grassroots Leadership, describes the days during Operation Crosscheck as days of madness. The criminal justice and immigration reform group has operated the ICE Out of Austin campaign for years.

Zuvieta became a leader in the campaign after her husband was deported about four years ago, leaving her to raise her two children on her own. She’s spoken everywhere from City Hall to the University of Texas about the campaign, but since the ICE arrests of 51 people in the ICE raids, she has been volunteering around the clock.

“Although we expected there to be ICE raids, to be honest, I never thought it’d happen with this magnitude,” Zuvieta said.

Three weeks after the enforcement operation, Zuvieta’s cell phone hasn’t stopped ringing. One day she’s buying diapers for families who are here illegally and afraid to leave their homes and the next she’s consoling mothers whose deported children are going back to countries where their lives are in danger.

There hasn’t been a typical day for Zuvieta since the ICE raids. Her day begins at 6 a.m. and immediately checks her phone and social media to check on families and make sure no one else has been arrested. She’s constantly answering calls and texts from distressed families while juggling her own full-time housekeeping job and family. Zuvieta dashes from community meetings to rallies to the homes of families who need a power of attorney in case they get deported and need to leave their children behind with someone.

“My cell phone is working at 100 and my body at zero,” she said. But she converts the pain of having her family separated, she said, into energy to defend other families in fear.

“I see a future that’s very dificult for many of these families,” Zuvieta said. “But I think the pain of their children will transform into desire to make changes in this country.”