Fear of immigration enforcement has prompted fewer people to come out these days to Mercado Central in south Minneapolis to buy quinceañera dresses and snack on tamales. At nearby restaurants, diners trade tips on avoiding deportation.
The corner of Lake Street and Bloomington Avenue, long one of the city's thriving immigrant hubs, faces fear and uncertainty as President Donald Trump steps up his rhetoric on deporting people who are here illegally. While Minneapolis is not a particular target, some residents are on high alert after the president announced plans to carry out immigration raids in 10 cities over the weekend — a threat he postponed for two weeks to call for a congressional solution to the surge of asylum-seekers at the Mexican border.
"I think Trump knew what he was doing: he wanted to frighten people," said Concepcion, a St. Paul resident, as she ate lunch across the street at Taqueria & Birrieria Las Cuatro Milpas with her husband and children. "Everyone is on Facebook sharing videos of what to do if ICE shows up at your door."
She was born here, and her children are citizens. Yet they live in fear of immigration authorities. The father of Concepcion's children was deported back to Mexico before Trump took office, and they've never seen him again. Her partner, who works in construction, is also not documented. He has a deportation order from trying to unlawfully cross the border years before.
"I worry about him all the time," Concepcion said. "Is he going to come home someday? Is he not?"
She, like some others interviewed for this story, spoke on the condition that they only be identified by their first names to avoid jeopardizing their immigration status or that of family members.
Concepcion's sister-in-law's family, which also lacks documentation, merely goes to work and back home, wary that there is too much to lose by traveling to too many places. Concepcion's partner tries not to think much about the threat of getting caught.
"If it happened to him, our family would be broken. ... We would lose everything," said Concepcion.
Minneapolis officials released a statement in support of the immigrant community over the weekend, vowing that city police would not cooperate with ICE activity. But Elpidio Herrera, who was also eating at the taqueria with his wife, was skeptical. He has seen undocumented relatives and friends deported in Minneapolis for small infractions.
"There is no safe space," said Herrera, who is here legally and runs a construction company with his sons. "What you need to be is cautious."
He believes that as long as Trump is president, deportations will happen.
"I tell my family, my friends, be careful over what is happening," said Herrera. "Don't drive if you don't need to. Don't provoke anybody. Because the situation is very tough right now."
Hector Hernandez, the taqueria's Mexican-American owner, said he posted "Make tacos, not walls" signs to be funny. A lot of passersby snap pictures and come inside, but "they don't take it seriously or personally," he noted. People are worried, Hernandez added, but there is nothing they can do.
At the La Mexicana grocery store nearby, a young Mexican couple reflected on the risks they must take. Valdemar has a legal work permit, but his wife, Lizbeth, is here without documentation. She is due to give birth next month.
"I think there's a lot of insecurity," said Valdemar. "We came to this country to work, no? To provide for our families. Trying to scare us or push us aside is not good because we didn't come to steal or do anything bad."
They have already planned what to do if they are caught in an immigration raid. Lizbeth's father has papers, so he'll look after their two daughters.
"You always have to have the phone number of a relative," Valdemar said. "Know where your kids can stay. You talk about all those things."
At Mercado Central, a lively Latino market adorned with murals, co-op President Jeronimo Valtierrez said fewer people have been coming.
"People are scared over what may happen because [Trump] says one thing one day, another thing the next," said Valtierrez.
Ayde Vasquez has run a clothing shop for 15 years that sells traditional dresses for baptisms, parties and quinceañeras.
Sales usually go up on the weekends, but on Saturday she made about 20% less than usual. Three passersby said they did not want to spend money in case they were arrested and deported, given that their funds could go a long way in Mexico.
"The deportations really affect our businesses. ... People are really afraid to drive, to leave their homes," said Vasquez, who immigrated from Colombia. "They are scared to spend money."
She has legal residency here now, though she was previously arrested when she was undocumented.
"Everybody — clients, store owners, employees — is wondering, 'What happens if [immigration agents] come here?' "
They feel safe inside the market, she noted, but they know that the moment they walk outside they are at risk.
Minneapolis City Council Member Alondra Cano, who represents the Ninth Ward covering parts of south Minneapolis, said she received two false reports of immigration raids in the past few days, with people feeling pressure from the Trump administration's messages.
She wants the city to be more systematic in its response on immigration, looking at providing more affordable housing and support to businesses.
"I think that these threats are very real to people and even if we're not on that top ten list, it's having an impact," said Cano.
Maya Rao • 612-673-4210