Immigration attorney Beth McNinch estimates the front office of her EH Law Group fielded as many as 60 calls an hour from distressed clients.
"The general atmosphere is that everyone is afraid, more afraid than we've ever seen before," said McNinch.
Across town in Binghampton, immigration attorney Sally Joyner with Mid-South Immigration Advocates concurred.
"The level of fear is palpable," said Joyner. "After the election, we braced for changes in policy. The reality is that under the new memoranda, clients whose deportations would have been unthinkable just two months ago are now as much of a priority as known terrorists and gang leaders."
McNinch notes that her office once had one or two cases a week involving an individual being detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs (ICE). Now, there's a new call from a detained individual nearly every day.
Those clients are nervous because of a recent U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) memorandum that implements President Donald Trump's executive order titled "Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States," part of which has a dramatic effect on expedited process.
- Mass deportations feared.
When an expedited process occurs, the person given notice of removal has a brief chance to present any lawful rights they have but otherwise is swiftly deported without seeing a judge. Previously, this type of swift deportation occurred only within 100 miles of the border. Under the new DHS memo, expedited process will expand throughout all of the U.S.
"Basically, if you don't have status, then you're at risk for them to remove you immediately," said McNinch. "I think that's a very scary thing, and we haven't even seen the full effect of that order yet."
The heightened timeline of deportation that an expedited process guarantees means that both attorneys are noticing a rise in power-of-attorney requests. McNinch said attorneys in her office did not always feel that the legal action was necessary as most facing deportation had time to get their affairs in order. Now, with the threat of the expedited process, many of McNinch's and Joyner's clients are anxious to turn over legal authority to an appointed individual.
The Mid-South Immigration Advocates office has started to hold "preparedness" workshops on Saturdays, periodically, where attendees can request a copy of their immigration file, get a background check to review their record, and execute a power of attorney for an appointed friend or family member. Attendance is rising at the workshops, Joyner said, as are the requests for power-of-attorney documents.
Joyner laments that there are often times where she simply doesn't know how to soothe her clients.
"How do you reassure a crying 10-year-old boy that his mother won't get taken away from him?" asks Joyner. "These are families we've known for years, families who were once protected by the Obama administration's 'de-prioritization' of people in mixed-status families with strong ties to their communities and no serious criminal record."
The MEMigration Coalition includes Latino Memphis, Community Legal Center, Catholic Charities of West Tennessee, and World Relief Memphis.