Cesar Rodriguez, who owns a Mexican restaurant in Staten Island, said the rumors of immigration crackdown have had a serious impact on business.
"It has been very slow…Because everybody’s afraid to come, everybody’s afraid to walk on Port Richmond, where there’s been fake news about raids," he told CBS New York, noting that patronage is down 50 percent since social media started buzzing with false reports of checkpoints at various locations including subway stations.
Rodriguez believes the only way people will start returning is when they realize they’ve been fed false information. He said, "They have to be more informed about what’s going on around them."
Legitimate Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids have been taking place, primarily on the west coast, although there have been others throughout the country. The recent installation of a right-wing government, headed by a president who ran on an anti-immigration platform, has undocumented people on edge all across the US.
ICE took to Twitter to address false reports, writing that, "Reports of ICE checkpoints and sweeps or 'roundups' are false, dangerous and irresponsible," and that, "These reports create mass panic and put communities and law enforcement personnel in unnecessary danger."
Fahd Ahmed, a Queens-based immigration advocate, is working to bring the flow of misinformation to a halt. "There’s people that are afraid to leave their homes. There’s people that stopped going to work…A lot of people are putting up reports about suspected ICE raids online and they just proliferate and spread like wildfire," he said.
Similar reports have come out of cities like Chicago and Seattle. Chicago city administration spokeswoman Gail Montenegro released a statement observing, "These reports create panic and put communities and law enforcement personnel in unnecessary danger. Any groups falsely reporting such activities are doing a disservice to those they claim to support."
There have been reports of thieves capitalizing on this fear by posing as immigration agents and extorting money from immigrants under threat of deportation. In one such incident, four people dressed as ICE agents tricked a frightened immigrant out of $250.
New York City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer said, "First and foremost, no ICE officer, no police officer, no officer, would ever seek money in exchange for not being detained…We don’t want any immigrants in our community to be so fearful that they have to give their money, as this man did."