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Organizations, law enforcement quell fears among undocumented individuals surrounding COVID-19

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Posted at 9:13 PM, Mar 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-23 23:39:31-04

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — As the number of COVID-19 cases climbs, so do the number of calls at El Centro, a resource provider for the Latino community in Wyandotte and Johnson counties.

"There’s fear and anxiety about doing almost anything," Irene Caudillo, president & CEO of El Centro, told 41 Action News.

Caudillo said many of those feelings are coming from undocumented individuals within the community.

"You know, will they be tested if they're undocumented? Can they be tested if they're undocumented? What do they do if they think they have some signs?" Caudillo said. "It’s important for them to understand when to contact their provider. If they don't have a provider, how we get them the information of who to talk to."

Besides public health concerns, there are some uneasy feelings ahead of the stay-at-home order that begins Tuesday.

"Their fear is they're going to be stopped and asked, ‘Where are you going?’ and they can't kind of distinguish the difference between ICE and police," Caudillo said. "Sometimes there's a there's often a distrust."

Wyandotte County District Attorney Mark Dupree's office also has received similar calls.

"We are all in this together," Dupree said. "They are not looking to pull people over to check on their civil immigration status. Now—they will pull you over if you violate the law. If you're driving erratic and breaking the law, you will get pulled over if you're committing a crime, you will be arrested."

Recently, The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency said in a statement:

To ensure the welfare and safety of the general public as well as officers and agents in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic response, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will temporarily adjust its enforcement posture beginning today, March 18, 2020. ICE's highest priorities are to promote life-saving and public safety activities.
ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) will focus enforcement on public safety risks and individuals subject to mandatory detention based on criminal grounds. For those individuals who do not fall into those categories, ERO will exercise discretion to delay enforcement actions until after the crisis or utilize alternatives to detention, as appropriate.
Homeland Security Investigations will continue to carry out mission critical criminal investigations and enforcement operations as determined necessary to maintain public safety and national security. Examples include investigations into child exploitation, gangs, narcotics trafficking, human trafficking, human smuggling, and continued participation on the Joint Terrorism Task Force. This work will be conducted based on ability to coordinate and work with prosecutors from the Department of Justice and intake at both the U.S. Marshals Service and Bureau of Prisons.
Consistent with its sensitive locations policy, during the COVID-19 crisis, ICE will not carry out enforcement operations at or near health care facilities, such as hospitals, doctors' offices, accredited health clinics, and emergent or urgent care facilities, except in the most extraordinary of circumstances. Individuals should not avoid seeking medical care because they fear civil immigration enforcement.

"No person in our community should feel as though they're not able to participate in overcoming this obstacle together," Dupree said.

If you are a Spanish-speaking person seeking help or resources, you can contact El Centro at (913) 677-0100.