As the Daughter of an ICE Detainee, Here’s What I Learned From a Deep Dive Into Immigration Raids (OPINION)

Aug 3, 2020
5:29 PM

(AP Photo/Gregory Bull, File)

By Aissa Cabrales

Since the beginning of the Trump administration, worksite immigration raids have become a hyper-militarized immigration enforcement tactic that disproportionately affects the Latinx community. My lab, ICE in the Heartland, focuses on the six immigration raids that occurred in O’Neill, Nebraska; Mount Pleasant, Iowa; Salem, Ohio; Sandusky, Ohio; Sumner, Texas; and Bean Station, Tennessee

Although I did not experience these six raids myself, I am writing from the perspective of not only a student researcher, but as a daughter with a parent at an ICE facility amidst a global pandemic.

I have spent the past year involved at the research lab in three different ways. First, I transcribed interviews conducted with community members who responded to large-scale immigration work raids. These community members include community organizers, religious groups, volunteers, and people directly involved in the raids. Second, I created a Spanish digital archive pertaining to the raids that occurred throughout the Midwest. Third, I visited two of the raid sites in Ohio to understand the culture of the areas and conduct my own interviews with community members. From these three experiences, I have drawn several conclusions about the lasting effects of these raids. Not only does it affect the individuals who experienced the raid, it also affects their family, friends, and the community as a whole. 

After years have passed, it is easy to forget the horrors and dehumanization of immigration raids when they exit the media spotlight. However, for those directly impacted, the effects are still felt today.

At worksite immigration raids such as O’Neill, ICE agents would rent out hotel rooms the night before the raid, often times three hours away, in an attempt to be discreet. It is baffling to think about how taxpayer money is used to pay for ICE agents’ comfort, especially when you compare it to the lack of mental health resources in the Latinx communities. 

ICE works in stealthy and deceitful ways to commit horrendous acts against humanity. In the Sandusky, Ohio raid of 2018, ICE agents dressed in plain clothes and came in with dozens of donuts, pretending to have a community meeting with the workers.

ICE agents took advantage of the fact that these employees work painstaking hours and believed that these donuts were in appreciation of their hard work. However, that was not the case. After lining up employees outside the facility, there were about 200 agents and helicopters that started separating people by immigration status. Employees were zip-tied until they could prove their immigration status—the ultimate form of dehumanization.

Across these six raids, many children were left behind with no parent, causing the load of case workers to reach an unbearable limit. In addition to dealing with bail bonds and motions, they had to figure out where these children’s parents were. ICE tactics seem intentional to wear down community members in their ability to respond to these raids.

Responders would take vans of food and water to detention facilities because the detained  employees had been working all day and were stuck sitting on the bus, yet ICE would reject them. 

After these raids, many communities began to mobilize in preparation for another raid. Workshops were even centered around guardianship papers, so that if another raid happened, no child would be left alone. These experiences are traumatic for families as their lives will never be the same. 

Immigration raids instill fear and isolation within these communities. A ripple effect is reflected on an increase in children’s absences from schools and their constant anxiety of having a parent deported at any given moment while they are in school. 

These raids will forever have an intergenerational effect and trauma on those painfully impacted.

For Me, It’s Also Personal

While my father had his flaws like any other person, no child deserves to be separated from their loved one. ICE detention centers have a ripple effect of invisible punishments on families. I was a 15-year-old waiting for my dad to pick me up from high school after band practice, but he never showed up. I called and called his phone to try and figure out what had happened, where he was, but to no avail.

In that moment, everything felt like a blur, and I instantly began to panic. My aunt came to pick me up and brought me home. I remember my mom calling different police stations. It took about two to three days to locate him. He had been detained outside of a parking lot a mile away from my house. 

In the span of four years after that day, my dad was moved first to Texas, the to Mississippi and back to Texas again. Throughout these four years, my relationship with my dad has been limited to a phone call every so often, and I have only been able to visit him twice because the distance and money constraints continue to be the biggest barriers. I have been robbed of birthdays with my father, him watching me receive my high school diploma, sending me off to my first day of college, and many other experiences in my life. These are moments that I and many other children with parents in ICE custody can never get back in our lives. Before working with this research team, I felt as if I was one of very few children experiencing this harsh reality and never understood the magnitude of how many other children in the United States were experiencing this as well. 

Enough is enough. Now is the time for a movement that will create change so that no child is separated from a loved one. Now is the time for Congress and the rest of our country to put an end to this nightmare.

This is a call to abolish ICE.

A call to action for our youth’s future. 

A call for mental health professionals that are culturally competent.  

A call to give us back the childhood that was robbed from this generation. 

A call to give us back our parents and our loved ones.


Aissa Cabrales is a third-year undergraduate student at the University of Michigan studying Psychology and Spanish with a minor in Anthropology. Growing up in a mixed-status family and community in Illinois, she saw the lack of bilingual resources necessary to address the mental health concerns of the Latinx population, and hopes to address this lack of resources in her future career. She is currently a Research Assistant for “ICE in the Heartland,” a project funded by the Documenting Criminalization and Confinement Research Initiative at the University of Michigan.