While Tennessee is not expected to be affected by President Donald Trump's nationwide immigration enforcement operation that is expected to begin Sunday, local immigrant advocate organizations are working to educate area immigrant populations of their rights.
Trump said Immigration and Customs Enforcement authorities are specifically looking for those he called "bad players." But he also said the operation is targeting people who came into the U.S. illegally, and he said that's not fair to those who've been waiting for years to become citizens through a legal process.
"It starts on Sunday and they're going to take people out and they're going to bring them back to their countries or they're going to take criminals out, put them in prison, or put them in prison in the countries they came from. We are focused on criminals as much as we can before we do anything else," Trump said, according to the Associated Press.
The operation will target people with final deportation orders in 10 major cities, including Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Miami, and predominantly focus on Central American families who have arrived at the U.S. border with Mexico in unprecedented numbers, the AP reports. And while no Tennessee cities are expected to be a part of it, it's unclear if Georgia is on the list.
But on Friday, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee's administration expressed his support for the president's efforts.
In a statement Friday, Lee spokeswoman Laine Arnold said that "we support efforts by the federal government to curb illegal immigration and uphold the law."
Attempts to reach Gov. Brian Kemp and other Georgia lawmakers for comment Friday were not successful.
The sweep has sparked outrage and concern among immigrant advocates.
Stephanie Teatro, the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition's co-executive director, said Friday during a teleconference call that "while no Tennessee city is on the list of potential sites for a raid next week, the terror and panic of these announced raids has spread to every corner of our state."
She recalled how in April 2018 dozens of federal agents "stormed into a meat processing plant in East Tennessee and arrested nearly 100 workers. Reports of the raid spread quickly; many teachers rode the buses home with their students, fearing that families would not be there when they got home.
"These kinds of large-scale raids can impact a community like a natural disaster. Nearly 600 students were reported to have stayed home from school the next day."
Teatro said "no matter what, it's important that people ought to be prepared just in case."
Here locally, La Paz and the Coalition of Latino Leaders have pushed messages, written in Spanish, on social media alerting Spanish-speakers of the raids.
"We're not going to panic, but we will be prepared, informed and organized," one post read in Spanish.
Neither Chattanooga nor any other Tennessee city is on "the list of cities in which the raids will take place," another post read. "But even so, we encourage you to stay up-to-date with the news and be informed of your rights."
Some of those include not opening the door to immigration enforcement officials — or any other strangers — who come knocking, unless they have a warrant. Immigrants also have the right to remain silent and ask for an attorney.
That is something ICE agents noted may hamper the operation's success, the New York Times reported, since agents are not allowed to forcibly enter a home.
The raids were initially postponed, according to the newspaper, partly because of resistance among ICE officials.
The raids are expected to include "collateral" deportations, which means authorities might detain immigrants who happened to be on the scene, even though they were not targets of the operation.
ICE agents are said to be targeting at least 2,000 immigrants who have been ordered deported, and the operation is expected to take place in at least 10 major cities.
"The consequences of these raids are not only going to impact these immigrant communities," Teatro said, adding it drives a wedge between local officials, including police, in terms of reporting crimes and serving as witnesses.
Staff writer Andy Sher and the Associated Press contributed to this story.