U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were seen stopping Hispanic residents in a Columbia neighborhood Tuesday.
Police have confirmed ICE reached out this morning to let the department know about enforcement activity in the area.
“The Howard County dispatch center received notification this morning that ICE would be in the Columbia area,” spokeswoman Sherry Llewelyn said via email. “This was a courtesy call to advise our personnel that there may be some activity, which is standard operating procedure.”
“It was not described as a ‘raid,’” she noted, “but more specific criminal enforcement. ICE did not request HCPD assistance, nor did we offer. Howard County police were not involved in the operation in any way.”
HCPD policy dictates that officers do not stop individuals to question them about their immigration status, and do not call ICE to arrest an immigrant for civil violations of federal law.
But Robert Andelman, owner of Nightmare Graphics, Inc. in Columbia, said he spoke with four employees, with a fifth serving as a translator, who relayed to him that they saw agents “knocking door-to-door” in the Long Reach neighborhood starting around 5:30 a.m.
The agents were later spotted driving around in unmarked cars and “waiting for Hispanic-looking individuals to leave their home, at which point they would grab them,” Andelman said employees told him. An ICE van would then pull up and the individuals were placed inside, he said. One of his employees told him her nephew was taken.
The Sun also spoke with a Long Reach resident who said he spotted agents wearing ICE-labeled black shirts stopping and arresting more than half a dozen men.
Those reports would appear to run contrary to what Howard County Executive Calvin Ball said in a statement was not a “raid or sweep,” but a “specific, standard criminal enforcement operation.”
“Though I want to put a stop to any misinformation, I also want to reassure every resident that Howard County opposes the criminalization of undocumented people and our priority continues to be the safety and security of everyone in our community,” he said.
Lizette Olmos, a spokesperson for immigrant advocacy organization CASA de Maryland, said staff are “still investigating the situation to see what really happened.”
CASA held two “Know Your Rights” sessions this week in Baltimore City to advise immigrants on what they can say if stopped by immigration officers, she said. The organization has a hotline (1-855-678-CASA) for people to report ICE activity in their workplace or neighborhood.
No one answered ICE’s dedicated media line Wednesday morning, and the agency has not responded to a message requesting comment.
The agents’ appearance in Columbia comes a little over a week after President Donald Trump tweeted that “Next week ICE will begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States. They will be removed as fast as they come in.”
The president later pushed back the promised mass deportations under pressure from Democratic members of Congress, tweeting, “I have delayed the Illegal Immigration Removal Process (Deportation) for two weeks to see if the Democrats and Republicans can get together and work out a solution to the Asylum and Loophole problems at the Southern Border. If not, Deportations start!”
Baltimore is reportedly among 10 cities that were to be targeted with raids. ICE has said it plans to deport up to 2,000 families who have missed court dates or been served with deportation orders.
Alexis Downs, an immigration counselor with the Columbia-based Foreign-Born Immigration and Referral Network (FIRN for short), told Baltimore Fishbowl her organization is aware of the reported activity, and heard from a client “that ICE agents were knocking on many apartment doors in her complex.”
“This seems too general to be a targeted operation going after specific individuals,” she said, “so we are preparing to field calls from family of individuals who were picked up that may have no criminal issues or previous contact with ICE or the immigration courts.”
The organization, based in Columbia for nearly four decades, offers citizenship classes, counseling, interpretation and translation services, tutoring, referrals and more to immigrant clients.
“It provokes so much worry and stress for the families,” she said of the agents’ activity in the area, “and also forces organizations like ourselves to kind of figure out how we’re gonna respond.”
This story has been updated.