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Lincoln Heights Churchgoers Say Threat Of ICE Raids Is Scaring People Away

Congregants celebrate Sunday services at the Church of the Epiphany in Lincoln Heights on July 14, 2019. (Gabriel Cortes/LAist)
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By Gabriel Cortes and Leslie Berestein Rojas

It wasn't a secret that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement planned to carry out deportation raids this weekend.

In fact, it was President Donald Trump himself who sounded the alarm.

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Immigrant rights activists braced for action in several large U.S. cities, including New York, Atlanta, Houston, and Los Angeles.

But on Sunday morning, reports of raids across the country were few. In L.A., there weren't any more arrests by ICE agents than usual.

The threat alone, however, was enough to keep people from going to church on Sunday, said Sonia Garcia, a parishioner at the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany in Lincoln Heights.

"A lot of us are missing today," Garcia said. "I think it's because people are scared by all the talk about the raids."

In all, about 30 people attended the church's Spanish-language service at 10 a.m., less than half of the regular crowd.

Tom Carey, the church's vicar, said most of his congregants are of Central American origin, and the potential of ICE raids has been a major topic of conversation.

"We're all talking about it," Carey said. "I am not aware of anyone in my congregation that is in immediate danger, but everyone knows someone who is."


According to some news reports, Trump administration officials said they were still rolling out a planned operation targeting as many as 2,000 immigrants in several cities around the county over the next few days.

ICE officials did not provide details, telling KPCC/LAist in an emailed statement Sunday that "due to law-enforcement sensitivities and the safety and security of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) personnel, the agency will not offer specific details related to enforcement operations."

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The statement added that ICE agents "make arrests every day in the course of carrying out their mission to uphold public safety."

Since Trump first tweeted last month that pending immigration sweeps would seek to deport "millions," immigrant advocates have been pushing information campaigns advising people not to open the door if immigration agents arrive at their home unless they have a warrant signed by a judge. Immigration agents often bring administrative warrants, which don't require residents to let them in.

Advocacy groups have also been warning immigrants to seek legal counsel ahead of time and to make contingency plans, such as designating who will take care of the children in case parents or caregivers are arrested.

Less than half the normal amount of churchgoers attended Sunday service at the Church of the Epiphany in Lincoln Heights on July 14, 2019. (Gabriel Cortes/LAist)

Carey said that the church will protect anyone who fears being detained by ICE. He and other parishioners have contingency plans in place in case anyone in the community needs assistance.

"We are a sanctuary church," congregant Dinora Herrera said. "If the vicar isn't here, my husband can open the church if anyone needs it."

That sentiment was directly reflected in Sunday's sermon, which revolved around the parable of the good Samaritan, who helps a traveler he found beaten and left for dead despite religious differences.

"If we only offer our generosity to people who look like us, that's meaningless," Carey counseled his congregation. "If we only welcome people who we already know, it's meaningless."

When asked after the service if he had picked that specific parable just for today. Carey responded that the reading is picked long in advance and depends on the liturgical calendar.

The fact that this week's sermon resonated so acutely with current events was pure serendipity.


3:46 p.m.: This article was updated with information about how immigrant activists have been responding to the threat of ICE enforcement.

This article was originally published at 2:12 P.M..

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