Immigrants across America are living in fear of deportation and separation from their families after raids targeting 2000 undocumented migrants began on Sunday.
The raids, which will be conducted by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), have sent terror through the migrant community, with many stocking up on food rations to hide from police during the blitz.
The raids have sparked protests and vigils across the country inlcuding in Washington state, where after six hours of peaceful rallying in front of an immigration jail, a man armed with a rifle threw incendiary devices at the detention centre before being shot by police.
Willem Van Spronsen of Vashon Island, 69, died at the scene after he caused a vehicle to catch on fire when he attempted to ignite a large propane tank in the hope of setting the centre on fire, police said.
The privately-run Homeland Security detention facility holds migrants pending deportation proceedings.
Police spokeswoman Loretta Cool said a motive for Van Spronsen’s actions hasn’t been determined.
Announcing the raids on Friday, President Donald Trump said: “It starts on Sunday, and they’re going to take people out. And they’re going to bring them back to their countries, or they’re going to take criminals out, put them in prison or put them in prison in the countries they came from.”
There have been rising fears among the migrant population in the US over the raids, with the operation being widely debated, scheduled and then rescheduled in the past month.
Many migrants are reportedly skipping work to stay indoors with the lights switched off, while others have fled their homes in an attempt to get as far away as possible from the addresses the government has on file.
Advocates and immigrant organisations are reminding communities about their rights if ICE agents show up – including the fact that the agents cannot forcibly enter the home of their targets under law.
“You might have a deportation order against you, that does not give an ICE agent the ability to come into your door,” executive director Steven Choi said in an interview with WNYC.
“I would just say the advice to immigrant families and for communities is don’t open the door. Period.”
Norelia Sanchez, an immigrant family support worker with the Redlands Christian Migrant Association in Florida told The New York Times that after ICE agents were seen parked near a Hispanic restaurant in Immokalee, an area where many migrants live, it had been deserted.
“It was just plain silent. It was completely a ghost town,” Ms Sanchez said.
“The ones who did (go out), you could actually see mothers with children, holding their hands, holding their cellphones, and they were literally running to the school.”
ICE officials announced last week that the agency would raid 10 cities including Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York and San Francisco.
In a statement on Thursday ICE spokesman Matthew Bourke said that while they would be specifically looking for “illegal aliens” anyone violating immigration laws could be targeted.
“As always, ICE prioritises the arrest and removal of unlawfully present aliens who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security,” he said.
“However, all of those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and – if found removable by final order – removal from the United States.”
The Trump administration has said the raids are necessary to enforce immigration law, with the President, who has made fighting illegal immigration a centrepiece of his time in office, tweeting that they would target people who “have run from the law”.
Since October there has been a steady stream of migrant parents and children crossing the US border, with many seeking asylum from Central America.
Opponents to the raids argue an operation is a tool used by the administration to intimidate immigrant communities and target families.
Thousands of protesters across America hit the streets over the weekend to rally against the raids.
In Chicago, they were joined by US Rep Jesús Garcia, who told the crowd: “It’s about damn time we tell this racist president loud and clear: Stop criminalising desperation.”